Workplace Investigation Interviewing Respondents

Workplace Investigation Interviewing Respondents – Should you ‘tip you hand’ in regard to evidence you have during a respondent interview.

If a respondent is giving you a different version of events than other witnesses have should you say something like, “I have evidence that you………..” or “I have been told that……”

Personally I say, No. My process is to let the respondent talk and review all of the evidence at a later or report writing stage.

Why? In my opinion ‘tipping your hand’ may alert the respondent to what you have and give them the opportunity to change their version in their favour while still denying the allegation.

As the aim of the workplace investigations is not to get a confession using the “I have been told” or “I put it to you” style of interviewing may lead to an appearance of bias.

As an example during an investigation I had interviewed a number of witnesses in a bullying complaint, 10 in total.  The during course of the interviews I asked about their relationships with the senior employee who was the subject of the complaint. All of the witnesses commented that since he has arrived the senior employee was rude and ignored most of the staff on a daily basis.  When I interviewed the warehouse staff (4) they told me that the the senior employee walked through the warehouse each morning and afternoon and never said hello or engaged in any interactions at all.

When I interviewed the the senior employee I asked him about his relationships with the staff, he told me that his relationships were good.  When I asked him about the warehouse staff he told me that they he walked through the warehouse at times and regularly chatted to the staff especially the warehouse manager about football, family, what happened on the weekend etc. When I asked him if he recalled any specific examples he was unable to.  When I asked him if he was able to tell me what football team the warehouse manager supported he hesitated and seemed to have a guess based on the location of the warehouse and the fact that the warehouse manager walked to work, he nominated the local NRL team.

I followed this up with the warehouse manager who told me that football to him was the English Premier League and that he followed Manchester United, he didn’t follow the NRL and that he had never spoken to the the senior employee about football.

I was able to conclude based on the evidence and the balance or probabilities that the evidence of the the senior employee was inconsistent and could not be relied upon.

I have used this investigation scenario in training where I play the part of the respondent. Recently a participant opened his questions about the relationship with the warehouse staff with, “I have information that you ignore the warehouse staff.” I was able to counter by saying ” Well they are all very busy, perhaps they don’t hear me” followed by ” I can’t really remember” answers. This shut down further questions and the information about the football was never obtained.

My belief is that using the “I have been told” or “I put it to you” style of interviewing may not only lead to an appearance of bias but can create an adversarial feeling in the interview that may lead the interviewer losing the opportunity to gather important evidence.

Need help with the investigation process? you can;

  1. Engage AWPTI and have use take the stress out of workplace investigations – https://awpti.com.au/workplace-investigations/
  2. Undertake workplace investigation training, we have a number of courses including the
  3. Get some resources to assist you such as our HR Products

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