Workplace Investigation Questions: Key Questions to Ask Parties and Witnesses

woman speaking to two people

According to provincial and federal legislation, employers in Canada have an obligation to investigate workplace harassment and violence allegations. For an organization to successfully resolve the issue and effectively prevent similar problems from happening again, the workplace investigation questions are crucial. To get the most useful information, the investigator must ask the right questions. If you would like to learn more about the types of questions to expect during these interviews, consider contacting a knowledgeable external investigator from Bridge Legal & HR Solutions by calling (647) 794-5442.

Investigating the Complaint

When an organization receives an employee complaint, the employer must take the allegation seriously and investigate it promptly. This signals to the complainant that the company plans to investigate the incident fairly and fully. Doing so also helps to create a workplace culture that encourages others to come forward when they have a legitimate complaint. Moreover, organizations can prevent potential fines and lawsuits by immediately taking steps to resolve the issue before it can escalate.

When beginning the investigation, one of the first steps is to consider who will conduct it. Generally, the ideal person is one who can communicate well with those being interviewed, is without bias, and is not a witness to the incident. Managers or supervisors, for example, may have strong connections with those involved in the incident and should, therefore, not conduct the investigation. See more information in our earlier blog post on The Value of External Investigators.

Interviewing the Complainant

In most cases, the investigator should start with interviewing the complainant. This usually gives the interviewer more information regarding the incident and helps him or her better understand what happened. During this interview, the goal is to find out as much as possible about the incident while being respectful of any discomfort the complainant might be feeling. This is particularly crucial if the complaint involves some form of discrimination or harassment, as recalling the events or naming witnesses might be upsetting. The following are possible questions the investigator may ask the complainant during a workplace investigation interview:

  • Can you tell us what happened in as much detail as possible?
  • When did this happen?
  • Has this happened on more than one occasion?
  • Where did this incident occur?
  • Did someone else see this incident? If so, who? Did the witness say or do anything in response?
  • Did this incident involve any physical contact? If so, can you describe and demonstrate it?
  • How did you respond to the incident, and how did the respondent react?
  • Did you speak to anyone else about this incident? If so, who and when? Also, what did the person say or do?
  • How has this incident affected you and your work?
  • Can you share with us any physical evidence related to this incident?
  • How do you want to resolve this issue?
  • Can you tell us anything else about this issue?

Interviewing the Respondent

After interviewing the complainant, the investigator will usually provide a letter outlining the details of the allegations to the respondent, and then meet with the respondent for an interview. During this interview especially, it is important to stay open-minded and avoid bias. Following are some questions an interviewer may ask the respondent:

  • Tell us what happened.
  • Where and when did this incident occur?
  • Was there anyone else present during the incident?
  • How do you know the complainant?
  • Tell us what the complainant did or said.
  • Can you provide any evidence to support how you remember the incident?
  • Did you tell anyone else about this incident? If so, who was it, and what did you say?

If the respondent doesn’t admit that the incident took place, the following questions may be added:

  • Can you give us a reason why the complainant would say this incident happened if it did not happen?
  • What were you doing when the alleged event took place?

Interviewing Witnesses

After speaking with the complainant and respondent, the investigator should interview any witnesses. These individuals can assist by either supporting or contesting the parties’ accounts of the incident and can elaborate on details that the parties may have omitted. Generally, the most effective witnesses are those who heard or saw the incident, but witnesses may also include those who spoke with others who saw the incident. When interviewing witnesses, it is crucial to mention the value of their input and inform them that what they say is confidential, especially if they are hesitant. The following are some workplace investigation questions the interviewer may ask witnesses:

  • Tell us about what you saw.
  • When did the incident happen?
  • Where did the incident occur?
  • Can you tell us who was there and what they said and did?
  • Were there any other witnesses? If so, who?
  • What were your actions after the incident, and what did you say?
  • How did the complainant and the respondent respond to your reaction?
  • Did you tell anyone else about this incident? If so, who and when? Did they say or do anything in response?
  • Can you share any physical evidence with us that relates to the incident?
  • Do you want to share anything else with us?

When a workplace investigation becomes necessary, it may help to contact an external investigator from Bridge Legal & HR Solutions. An experienced external investigator can help to ensure that the organization conducts the investigation properly.

Contact an External Investigator for Help with Workplace Investigations

Asking effective questions during a workplace investigation is a great way to prevent an organization from encountering further incidents. The answers to the questions enable employers to determine why an incident occurred, allowing them to not only resolve the matter but also to adjust their procedures, policies, and culture to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. While being aware of potential workplace investigation questions can be beneficial, consider contacting a skilled external investigator from Bridge Legal & HR Solutions by calling (647) 794-5442 for help with your workplace investigation.

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