How do I keep the cost of my investigation down?
Your organization has received an allegation of Workplace Harassment. You have followed all the procedures set out in your Workplace Violence and Harassment policy and have decided to use a Third-Party investigator to conduct the investigation. You may have selected a lawyer, paralegal, private investigator or human resource professional to conduct this investigation.
This investigation will be a significant cost to your organization. Your investigator may be able to offer ways to reduce the overall bill. Some investigators will work on a flat fee arrangement or a capped fee where they will not exceed an upper limit. This will at least give you some assurance of what the bill will be. But most investigators will bill on an hourly basis.
The following are some steps you can take to help reduce your bill:
Ensure you have a well-defined scope of work in your contract
When contracting with the professional who will be conducting the investigation, you and they will agree on what is to be investigated. This is called the scope of the work or investigation. Be sure that the contract you sign limits the investigator to only those matters which are included in the complaint made by the employee alleging harassment.
During the investigation it is not unusual for witnesses to tell the investigator about other, unrelated or loosely related issues occurring in the workplace. These disclosures may require an investigation, however, they may be matters you would prefer to investigate internally or of which you may already be aware and have investigated. The investigator should make you aware of these issues but should not follow those lines of enquiry beyond what is necessary to gather sufficient evidence to make a finding about the allegations under investigation.
You may be tempted to have the investigator see if there are other issues in your workplace or if there are areas of discontent or conflict. While surveying employee engagement and auditing culture including conflict is an excellent best practice, there are better and often cheaper ways to do this. During an investigation, employees are often stressed and anxious – so this is not the best time to see if they are satisfied with their work!
The investigator will give you a list of the information they require. It will likely include:
- A copy of your Workplace Violence and Harassment policy, your Code of Conduct, any other related policies and your Collective Agreement if applicable
- A written account from the complainant of the incidents of harassment or violence he or she alleges to have occurred. For each incident, they should indicate the date, time, location, what happened and who was present.
- The contact information for each witness they wish to interview
It is more efficient for the investigator and therefore more cost effective for you if you provide all the information requested in the format and within the timeframes requested. Unless the investigator requests otherwise, include all information in one communication.
The investigator may need a private place to conduct the interviews. If you can provide that space and make any necessary reservations that will reduce their workload and may save you the rental cost of an interview room. Discuss this with the investigator first though. They may already have suitable space available to them.
This will be a stressful time for you and you will have lots of questions. Many investigators allow for some “off the books” consultation. This will often be right at the beginning of the investigation. Otherwise, investigators bill by the hour, often in ¼ hour increments.
While your investigator may be a very pleasant person, they will not expect you to waste any of your paid time on small talk. You will not offend them if you don’t ask how they are, if they had a good weekend or if they caught the hockey game last night. Do not be offended if they seem brusque – they are saving you money!
Write down what you want to say before you call. Two 5-minute calls might be billed as ½ hour – so you want to make sure that you don’t hang up the phone and then remember something else you wanted to ask or say.
If your question isn’t urgent, write it down and wait until you have more than one question to ask. The same applies to email. One email with two questions is more cost effective than two separate emails.
If your question is complicated send them an email in advance outlining your query. You can attach any relevant documents. This will allow your investigator to consider their answer which may require research, in advance. They may reply via email. This will give both parties a written document for later reference.
During the investigation, you may have a number of questions that are related to the investigation but not specifically about the investigation. For example, you may want some advice on communication strategies to staff while the investigation is being conducted, processes related to having workers on administrative leave or concerns about what actions you will need to take when the investigation is complete. While your investigator will have impressive credentials, they can’t act as your employment lawyer or HR consultant. You have hired a “third-party” or neutral investigator to ensure that the investigation is not compromised by the investigator being seen as part of the management team. They will guard this neutrality in your best interests and will suggest you speak to your employment lawyer or HR consultant.
Use an external HR Consultant
When you have a situation of alleged harassment or violence in your workplace, many issues will arise that may be outside the experience of the person in your organization who has the responsibility for Human Resources. Using the services of an external Human Resource consultant can save you money in the long run. They can help you make the best decisions and minimize the risk for your business when dealing with these allegations. They will help reduce your legal fees by advising you when it is necessary to consult an employment lawyer.
HR consultants can provide a broad range of services . Some consultants will specialize in specific areas relating to workplace restoration and issues of conflict, harassment and violence. They can cost effectively update policies, provide staff training and coaching. Many have specialized skills such as mediation which can help the healing process in your workplace after the investigation has been completed.