Whenever I consult on in-house HR investigations, seldom do I hear or see HR investigators who are willing to make a judgment of credibility when no smoking gun (or even smoke for that matter) exists. The more common outcome is that the complaint is inconclusive. While that very well might be a possibility and it might feel safer, it should not be the default. Most HR professionals have the appropriate skills required to make solid credibility assessments, after all, they do them frequently as part of their job function – every time they make a hiring decision. The next time you are conducting an investigation, assess the credibility of involved parties in the exact same way you assess a candidate in the staffing process.
a. How many times have you commented that a job candidate never looked you in the eye, was fidgeting in his/her seat or answered questions too quickly? How did you assess their credibility? Or maybe the candidate answered questions with too much bravado and swagger. Did you buy it? During an investigation, record examples of this same body language and relevant demeanor as you interview the parties involved.
b. During a job interview, you’ll ask your candidate about a three-year gap in employment. Do you believe what she tells you? Does what she’s telling you make sense? Consider the same when an involved party in your investigation explains how they couldn’t possibly have behaved in the way that was alleged. Is the explanation consistent with your other facts? Is it logical or even plausible?
c. We seek out references and conduct background checks when making a staffing selection to back up what candidates tell us in interviews. No difference in an investigation. Find the documents or the individuals that can corroborate, or in some cases, contradict, what you have been told.
d. If you are interviewing a candidate and you ask them to describe some specific tasks they supposedly performed in a previous role and they can’t remember any details…makes you wonder doesn’t it? Funny thing those sudden memory lapses. No different from when an involved party in an investigation “forgets” to tell you about a recent and relevant conversation or email.
e. And finally, we always look at records of successes or failures when evaluating candidates for open positions. Don’t forget to do the same thing as part of your investigation. Look at employment history, previous issues and warnings.
Your assessment of credibility (and its supporting documentation) should be used as one of the determiners in your final analysis of the facts.
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, a technology solution that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world. Be proactive. Manage risk. Create a safer workplace.