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I Fought the Law

Try to watch “Law and Order” as if you’ve never seen an episode before.  Pretend like those two Bum-Bumps are the first time you’ve heard them.  It’s fascinating to watch the entire hour and see how the two detectives process the investigation which typically leads to the court case.  I used to watch the original “Law and Order” religiously.  Yes, I know that there are SVU, CI, SUV and hybrid versions, but I was a fan of the original.  The course of action taken by the detectives is methodical, a bit stale and thorough, but it works.

For the employee who comes to the HR department with a complaint, inquiry or charge, there is an expectation for answers and investigation.  HR loves the answers, but perhaps to a fault.  Our ability to provide solution to the complaint may not really handle the issue at hand.  The employee can feel his/her issue has been minimized as he/she leaves your office (or cubicle area or working table or Segway mobile office).  Are we satisfied with just an “answer” or do we need to spend time trying to understand where this issue comes from?

Honestly, there are times that a simple answer is all that is needed.  Let’s not make a mountain out of molehill.  If someone comes to complain about not being off for Arbor Day, that may be a very quick conversation.  Something like, “I’m sorry that you’d like the company to be closed for Arbor Day, but if you have PTO available to you, perhaps you could plan on using some in order to spend time planting trees to honor the day.”  Smile sincerely and usher them out.  Close the door and reflect on why you’ve chosen the career you have.  After a few minutes, you’ll be back at it!

But what about the ones that take a bit more?  If an employee asks about hours not paid on a paycheck, then perhaps a quick look at the time system, finding where the data was corrupt or not transferred into payroll will prevent the occurrence in the future.  Perhaps there is a bit of management training needed.  Perhaps the employee needs a reminder on the time clock.  Perhaps it’s a one-time Gremlin in the system.  All it would take is a little bit of research mixed with a little bit of conversation and/or training.

And then, there are the ultimate investigations, such as harassment, discrimination or theft.  A process for this investigation should be in place.  What will it take for the company to handle the claims presented?  Is there a path to follow?  No?

There are components of good investigation that are universal.  Try to work within a flow of process in those components in order to gather the information needed.  An investigation is serious and it does require professionalism in approach.  If you are the HR person who would lead or conduct the investigation, have you established yourself in the company as someone capable of such work?  If you’ve been relegated or allowed yourself to be relegated to the party-planning HR person or the gossip-laden HR person, then it’s not likely that you’ll gather all of the data necessary in your investigation.

Staff may not be able to draw a line between the “Buddy HR” person and the “Detective HR” person you’re trying to be.  That is a tall order.  As such, determine whether outside help might be needed.  Does your process allow for this possibility?  Between the HR role played, the characters in the investigation and the subject matter involved, an outside expert might be the most beneficial for the organization.  Be okay with letting someone in.  It’s not about dirty laundry but about ascertaining the truth and finding solution, however difficult that may be.

Be clear, too, in the fact that you will need to speak with others.  When an employee starts his/her complaint to you with “Please don’t say anything, but…”, you can be sure that you’re likely going to need to say something to someone else.  A true investigation will need facts and accounts from all parties named and involved.  Keeping this between us is not possible, let alone the matter of law that may be in play.  Disclosure may be required.  Consult your counsel if you have questions in any of these areas.  Likely an attorney will tell you that you cannot promise to keep what’s shared only between you two.

There are great resources available to you to help with investigation.  Take the time to research and develop a plan prior to needing a plan.  You will be able to approach plan development with less stress and with more clarity of thought.  Talk to your senior team, your counsel, your HR colleagues in other companies, your SHRM group…anyone who has been through developing a process.  Learn from their victories and hiccups.

And while it may not be the wisest to wear a badge around the office as if you’re the cop on duty, you should establish yourself as being an integral part of the investigative process at your company.  Just pin the badge on the inside of your suit coat or sweater.  You can know it’s there.  Bum-Bump.


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