Workplace Investigation complaint analysis failure

Workplace Investigation complaint analysis failure – Investigations into behavioural issues such bullying, harassment, sexual harassment generally start with some sort of a complaint.  It could be argued that the analysis of the complaint is one of the most important components of a successful investigation, it certainly is the start point.

In a recent articles I spoke about the common failures I see in workplace investigations – The articles are here
Workplace Investigation Failure
Workplace Investigations Interview Failure

It is vitally important to remember that in workplace investigations into any form of misconduct of any sort including behavioural issues such as bullying, harassment, sexual harassment or discrimination that it is critical for the investigator to  ‘get it right the first time every time’

The analysis of the complaint is a vital part of the investigation and usually the start point, it is crucial to fully understand;

  • What the complaint is about and
  • Who are the parties
  • What are the details of the complaint.

Complaints often come in written form via an email or letter. Complaints are often full of emotive language and at times lack detail in regard to the exact nature of the incidents complained about; when incident/s occurred; what was actually said; how the alleged bullying etc actually manifested and if there were any witnesses present and if so who?

Complaints are full of information but not necessarily evidence.  It has been said that all evidence is information, but not all information is evidence.

The complaint analysis is where the investigator generates the interview plan/s and the questions required to gain clarity and to gather evidence during the complainant, witness and respondent interviews.

Here are some of reasons for Workplace Investigation Complaint Analysis failure.

1.  Failure to recognise the importance of conducting a thorough complaint analysis

If the complaint analysis is flawed everything the flows from that point onwards will also be flawed including the interview plans, then the interviews, the evidence analysis and the final report.

A thorough and professional analysis of the complaint is the first step to ensuring investigation success.

2.  Failure to have a process when conducting a complaint analysis

I use the same process for every complaint analysis in every investigation.

  • I print out the complaint
  • I use a highlighter to highlight everything I want/need to clarify with the complainant when I interview them

I provide full details of my complaint analysis process in my workplace investigation training programs where participants work through an investigation scenario from the receipt of the complaint including the analysis.
Conducting Workplace Investigations – Full course
Conducting Workplace Investigations – Open Course

3. Not taking your time

Whether it’s a 1 page or 50 page complaint the investigator must take his or her time to carefully read the complaint in full paying attention to all the details.

4.  Failing to clarify

What parts of the complaint require a who, what, where, when, why or how question during the interview to clarify. Without a careful complaint analysis you won’t have the questions that require the who, what, where, when, why or how answers.

5.  Failure to recognise what parts of the complaint require a definitive scale to be applied during the interview

Often complainants use word like ‘yelled’, ‘screamed’ and the like. These words mean many different things to different people.  You must be able to apply a definitive scale that you can test with witnesses. (Not sure how to do this, I teach this in my investigation training courses, see the link at the bottom of the article.)

The definitive scale can also be applied to distances.

6.  Making assumptions about what the complainant meant

You must not make assumptions when analysing the complaint and planning the questions for your interview. For example if a complainant uses terms such as angry, upset, aggressive, threatening or intimidating.

You may know what these word means however you must highlight these words in your analysis so that you ask the questions during your interview so that ascertain exactly what the complainant meant by the comments/words.

7.  Making assumptions that the complainant knew what they meant

At time a complainant may use words or terms when they don’t actually know what the word means.  For example a complainant who is being subjected to performance management claims that he was subjected to blackmail and extortion. Now you may know what those terms mean by does the complainant.

In this case during interview when asked what he meant, he replied, “these meeting they keep asked me to come to, that’s extortion, they are trying to blackmail be out of my job.’

8. Not realising or highlighting the need to clarify certain terms.

The classic case is the F word.  Often in complaints I see “F%#k” Again you may think you know what the complainant meant however once again you must highlight these words in your analysis so that you that during your interview you ask the question so that you can ascertain exactly what the word used was. Be careful words like that can have other interpretations.

9. Failure to recognise anything that does not appear to make sense or is contradictory

Sometimes there may be confusion on the part of the complainant when they were writing the complaint but at other times it could be holes in the story.  A careful complaint analysis may bring this to light.

10. Leaving stones unturned 

A thorough complaint analysis will ensure that you ask all the questions.  I have had complainant say “why do i need to be interviewed everything is in my written complaint?” My answer has been, “Actually I have read your complaint and have about 50 follow up questions.”

From information to evidence

Remember the complaint is information. It becomes evidence when you gather the information to support or otherwise something that is at issue. You must be able to support your allegation with evidence if you are going to substantiate it. It is very important NOT to read into the complaint with your personal views or opinions

As I said at the start if the complaint analysis is flawed everything the flows from that point onwards will also be flawed including the interview plans, then the interviews, the evidence analysis. You cannot hope to provide a effective final report if the processes that proceed it are flawed.

AWPTI can provide workplace investigation training to ensure that you get it right the first time every time.

Courses include:

Conducting Workplace Investigations – Full course  – Highly recommended for organisations charged at a flat rate with no limit on attendees

Investigation sexual harassment 

Conducting Workplace Investigations- Basic courses

Conducting Workplace Investigation Open course This is is open an anyone, you do not have to be part of an organisation

More courses can be found at

All course except the open course can be provide live by request, which means at a time and date to suit your requirements and can be provide in person or remotely via Zoom or Teams

AWPTI can also provide full investigations services –

AWPTI – workplace investigation based in Sydney, conducting workplace investigations nationwide including Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, Western Australia, the ACT/Canberra, Northern Territory and Tasmania.

Workplace training national wide and internationally

Misconduct investigations, bullying investigations, harassment investigations & sexual harassment investigations, complaint investigations, grievance investigations, discrimination investigations