For sound and effective formal investigations of harassment, bullying and discrimination follow my tips based on extensive experience of conducting investigations.

Have an appropriate order of play

I recommend the following order of play for the interviews:

  • First the complainant, without whom there would not be a complaint to investigate.
  • Then witnesses – who may have been recommended by either the complainant or the respondent.  The investigators can select other people they think may have been witnesses to the allegations.  No character witnesses should be interviewed.
  • Finally, the respondent so that s/he can respond to all the allegations.

Although the complainant and respondent can suggest witnesses, it is for the investigators to decide which witnesses to interview.

All parties should be interviewed separately so that an objective view can be formed of events leading up to the complaint.

How to come to conclusions

The investigating officers must decide from the evidence collected whether, on the balance of probabilities, there is a case to answer.  In doing so, they should take into account all relevant factors, including:

  • the impact of the alleged behaviour
  • behaviour of all parties following the alleged incident
  • consistency of approach of all parties
  • admissions
  • whether the alleged behaviour fell within the definitions outlined in the organisation’s Harassment and Bullying Policy

Note: The investigators should consider the impact of the alleged behaviour and whether it was a reasonable reaction to the events.

Check out my blog in the next edition of HR Review for more tips on investigating harassment, bullying and discrimination. Jean Kelly





Jean Kelly, MD, Jean Kelly Consultancy

Jean Kelly is an experienced specialist in combating harassment and bullying at work. Her company investigates, trains and consults on all issues relating to conflict at work.

Jean offers a conciliation coaching service to informally resolve workplace disputes and she has produced a range of products and open programmes to help managers develop their people management skills.