Investigations into complaints of harassment are on the rise as people become increasingly willing to talk about them.
Harassment is defined as distress or alarm felt by a victim due to the action or inaction of an alleged perpetrator. This can be a particular incident or a behavioural trend over time.
Every harassment case will be influenced, not just by the facts, but by the perceptions and beliefs of the individuals involved. Broadly speaking, they can be classified into four major categories:
- Sexual harassment.
- Psychological or personal harassment by creating a hostile work environment or offending people’s sentiments and beliefs.
- Other abusive behaviour and physical harassment.
If your business is involved in an harassment case, it is important to remember that the primary purpose of an investigation is to gather all the facts and evidence. This can involve interviewing the alleged perpetrator, the victim and any witnesses, and reviewing event-specific information, communications and other relevant evidence, including CCTV footage or photos.
There are several important factors to consider when developing an investigative approach to an inquiry. These include:
- Empathy. An empathetic approach helps investigators to understand a case better, but clearly this doesn’t mean that they should agree with any statements made.
- Focus. Not every aspect of a case can usually be investigated in depth, so it’s important to decide on the key aspects to focus on for detailed examination as the investigation progresses.
- Gathering evidence at every stage. Evidence is not always apparent, but can often be uncovered through simple, but relevant questions during the process, such as “On what basis are you saying something like this?”
- Understanding both sides. The alleged perpetrator and the victim should be allowed to share their version of the incident and their thoughts on it. A good understanding of all the relevant events and facts should mean the victim or alleged perpetrator will share more information with investigators before answering a specific question.
Other key factors in an investigation include understanding the history of the case to identify how the concerns arose or unfolded and differentiating between perceptions and facts substantiated and supported by evidence.
Investigators need a balanced understanding of a person’s behaviour at the present time, the time of the incident and in general. Being aware of just one aspect of a case obviously may not reflect all its circumstances.
Furthermore, opinions or beliefs aren’t static, they evolve depending on the environment in which people work or live.
Finally, it is important to recognise that both victims and alleged perpetrators could both be telling the truth from their own perspective, even if their accounts differ, simply because they perceive a particular event or circumstance differently.
Harassment cases require a patient, structured approach since they involve handling sentiments, emotions and perceptions.
This is a sensitive issue to deal with, and everyone involved should be given adequate opportunity to
share their versions of the incident.
Finally, it usually pays to be empathetic and of course to ask pertinent questions to gather the facts.
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