Sex, Lies and Audiotape

- Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Raising challenges in interviews
Versions of Events Differ? Raising Challenges in Interviews

If you are conducting a workplace investigation, no doubt you’re dealing with something unpleasant. All the more so because at some point you will have to conduct an interview with the person against whom allegations have been made.

Allegations have been made, an interview is required

To conduct a proper investigation, you need as much detail as possible about the allegations. For example, if an employee – let’s call her Sarah – alleges that she has been bullied by another employee – let’s call him Michael – one of your first actions in investigating the matter will be to interview Sarah and get as much detail as possible about why she says she has been bullied by Michael. As a matter of procedural fairness, Michael must have an opportunity to respond to the allegations during interview before any determination is made.

Raising challenges in investigative interviews

One of the big issues that can arise in these situations is how to challenge the interviewee. A challenge is necessary when the interviewee denies the allegations or gives a different account of events. Because there is a chance that the interviewee will remain an employee of your organisation after the interview, you need to tread carefully in order to preserve the working relationship. For example, Sarah says that Michael often yelled at her and made her cry. When you interview Michael, you tell him how the interview is to proceed, put the allegations to him, and then ask open questions that will encourage him to provide a narrative of events so you can collect as much information as possible. 

In this case, you ask Michael whether there were any issues in his working relationship with Sarah and any conflict. You might then ask whether he had ever raised his voice with Sarah or had she ever cried in his presence. Michael tells you that he can’t recall a time when he has seen Sarah crying and that he has never yelled at her. You have a direct conflict between the two versions of events. These points are important, as they may tend to prove or disprove Sarah’s allegations. 

 You need to outline to Michael the information that you have gathered on these points. You tell Michael that other staff members have heard him yelling at Sarah and they have seen her crying in meetings. Then you give him an opportunity to respond. You must remain objective during this process – do not say anything that is judgmental (for example, “You shouldn’t have done that …”) or that indicates that you have determined the matter one way or another. Once you have given Michael the opportunity to respond to your questions, it is essential to repeat back to Michael what he has just told you. This can be paraphrased or summarised. The point of this is to make sure that you have understood the information and that it is accurate. Ask whether your recount is correct.

The key points in summary

So in summary, the steps for raising challenges in an investigative interview are:

  1. Ask the employee to tell you about the incident. 
  2. Where there are differences between the versions of events, raise them with the employee.
  3. Ask the employee to respond to those comments.
  4. Recap what the employee has just told you, summarising the key points.
  5. Ask the employee whether your summary is accurate.
The need for objectivity and procedural fairness

A properly executed investigative interview should demonstrate objectivity on the part of the interviewer and procedural fairness by putting the detailed allegations to the interviewee and giving them ample opportunity to respond. When these principles are followed, the interviewer has a good chance of collecting detailed information that will allow a proper assessment of the facts and a sound conclusion to be reached. 

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