Many employees are initially surprised when approached by their employer about allegations made against them by co-workers. The nature of these allegations can vary widely in seriousness, but any employee whose conduct is being investigated would be wise to take every complaint seriously. The process however, is often stressful and unfamiliar.
Here are 5 essential 'must-do's' for employees responding to workplace allegations:
1. Get details about the process: When responding to allegations in the workplace, it is essential that the investigation process is set up to respect your rights as an employee and to ensure that the process is fair. Get an understanding of all steps, from start to finish. Be sure to be provided with the allegations at the outset (before your interview). Also, request to see the details of co-workers’ statements (and any other evidence), and ask for an opportunity to respond to that evidence. A proper workplace investigation must give you an opportunity to meaningfully participate.
2. Get particular about the allegations: It is important that you know the allegations made against you in order to properly respond and facilitate the investigation. It is important to understand the nature of the complaint so that you can also assess its seriousness, including the possible ramifications that could flow from the investigation. Get details about any potential discipline, up to and including dismissal, that your employer is considering if it makes findings against you.
3. Be honest! It is essential that you are completely honest during the investigation. Do not mislead, lie or tell half-truths. Even when you have engaged in some (or all) of the wrongdoing being investigated, it is key that you are honest with your employer. Dishonesty during an investigation will result in a breach of trust. It can result in your summary firing, even where the cause of the investigation would otherwise not justify it.
4. Be cooperative: By taking a helpful tone in the investigation, you are (and will be seen to be) facilitating the investigation process. Do not use the process as a means to personally attack the complainant. Address the allegations in a direct, clear and focused manner. Try to use the process as a way to explore mutually beneficial solutions to resolve the workplace issue.
5. Get a lawyer: It is important to get legal advice. A lawyer who is familiar with workplace investigations can help guide you through this stressful process, and help ensure that your rights are protected. A lawyer will walk you through the process, help you to prepare for your interview, provide guidance on how to respond to evidence and can help you to prepare for the investigation outcomes (and any fallout). A lawyer can also advocate for you to ensure a fair outcome.