Even managers who’ve been around the block a few times may not have a lot of experience investigating such employee complaints as harassment or discrimination claims.

In a way, it’s a good indicator if you lack familiarity with such complaints – it means your workplace is relatively free of the conditions that lead to them.

What to do, and say
But if you do have to look into complaints – and you should never brush them off – it helps to start with an idea of what you’re going to do and say. Here are some guidelines, with sample language you can use:

  • Make sure the investigation is fair to all. Give each side equal time to state their case. “Tell me exactly what happened and why. Take all the time you need.”
  • Keep it impartial. Do not hint that you favor one side over another. Say things like “I understand,” and “Can you elaborate?” Don’t make judgmental comments.
  • Stick to facts. Don’t be sidetracked when people inject their opinions. Probe to uncover what they actually know. “What did you see?” “Who else was there?” “Can you prove it?”
  • Doublecheck for duplicity. People may have hidden agendas. Test what they say. “Is that the real reason?” “Are you sure?”
  • Keep it confidential. You cannot guarantee or enforce confidentiality, but you can encourage it for the benefit of all parties involved.

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