Should You Look Outside Your Organization To Investigate A Sexual Harassment Complaint?

Bruce’s Summary: Interesting article from the New York Times presented by the author on the effectiveness and pitfalls of sexual harassment investigations being performed by a company’s internal human resource department.

The theme seems to be that more times than not, based on the fact we are dealing with human beings, the investigation itself can become entangled in political intrigue or the presence of an imbalance of internal power. At times, if not recognized, this type of behavior can result in a negative political effect on the internal HR person performing the investigation and/or the HR department itself.

During my 30 plus years of both performing internal and external investigations including sexual and harassment type allegations, the first question was the safety of the complainant and second as a HR Professional, was evaluating the internal political and power status of the parties (perceived or real) involved. Based on the evaluation, determine the best course to follow in either performing the investigation internally or using an outside neutral investigator. Third, if it was felt an outside investigator was warranted being solidly prepped to answer the management “why” questions with good business logic and reason. Here lies one of the litmus test for HR Professionals in being able to demonstrate an understanding of and speak the business’s fundamental language.

It’s not whether an individual or department can do the internal investigation itself, that’s not the point, the point is; are there enough political and/or power struggle issues that could potentially prevent someone as a HR Professional from effectively performing a through and complete investigation regardless where the evidence leads.

Core for any HR Professional is understanding the businesses basic language and next understanding it is the HR Professionals responsibility to develop and maintain solid Partnership relationships with their peers, counterparts and executives in building mutual respect, trust and inclusion. Once Partnerships are developed this allows for a more open and trusted dialogue regardless of the particular issue needing to be addressed. “None of the information contained herein should be construed as legal advice, nor are Calvin Associates consultants engaged to offer legal advice. If there is a need for legal advice, please contact and seek the advice of independent legal counsel.”

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