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Part 8: Investigations - Who is the Real Culprit or Root of the Problem?

observer or complainerHi Brent: Is thinking up these intricate problems for me a substitute for counting sheep, or have you just seen everything in your psychology practice? We have two issues raised here, communication, and the end determination of the investigation.

First, communication. No matter what the investigation turns up in the end, moving  it along in a timely way and letting the complaining witness know that his or her concerns are not being ignored, is very important as a matter of good practice and to prevent further problems. Most people think of attorneys only when they get well and truly frustrated (I guess we’re just not that popular otherwise). And as you point out, good communication helps prevent that frustration.

Your next point is an excellent one; that is, the result of the investigation may be that the complaint is not valid, or even that the complaining witness himself or herself is the problem. One thing I can’t stress enough is that the investigation should not begin with assumptions of anyone’s innocence or guilt. You cannot start with the idea that Mr. So-and-So would never do such-and-such. On the other hand, you cannot assume that any complaining witness factually is a victim. All groups of human include some liars (even if they are women or children). And bias or mistake is not only possible, but common. An investigation should strive for the truth without presuppositions.

The investigation should also carefully document interviews and findings, and culminate in careful reports that will remain in the file. It should be possible to show reasonably how the results were reached.

Supposing that the impartial investigation suggests that Ms. Complaining Witness really is the problem herself. One possibility is that she was malicious. If Ms. Complaining Witness has fabricated accusations against people, she can be disciplined. She doesn’t get some special “credit” for being first to point the finger. If Ms. Complaining Witness is not malicious, but does not realize that she is doing some things that are annoying to others and causing problems, she can be counseled, put on a performance plan, or whatever else HR believes is appropriate for administering the level of discipline required.

Documentation must be very careful and thorough, and this must be approached wisely, to avoid a claim of retaliation. Ms. Complaining Witness may have formed an opinion about someone else that turned out to be incorrect, because she was mistaken or did not have all the facts. She can be told that a careful investigation was done, but other information has become available that shows that her suspicions were not substantiated, or some similar communication (probably drafted with the help of your counsel). 

In short, seeking the truth can be difficult and complex, and the investigation may or may not turn out as the complaining witness hoped.

Whistle-blowing 

Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion

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