Fact Finding, Why and What Does it Mean?
Last night a longtime friend of mine reached out for HR advice and thankfully I was able to provide some perspective. There may be different names for the fact-finding process, be it a Study or an Investigation but in the end it all comes down to one thing; did the employer respond to the claim by conducting a fair, unbiased, well documented and prompt response? Often the process is a combination of art and science but a good fact-finding process includes the generation of “good documentation” that creates a solid record for an organization.
In my experience, “good documentation” has a few key components to it and it can benefit an organization not only in internal fact-finding studies but rather every employee relations interaction. First, the document should explain a purpose and have reference for answering basic questions like Who, What, Where, Why or How? To keep it objective and to better explain your perspective it should always tie back to business. Explain the business impact or the result as it relates to your policies, procedures, and expectations. Ideally, these references exist and have previously been communicated and acknowledged. Corrective action may result and this should be included in the document as it relates. Proper care must be taken to correct any inappropriate behavior as it pertains to the situation. Specifically, the action plan to ensure that a mutual resolution is achieved. Follow up is crucial to show follow through and commitment to the corrective action. Last, the document should put in writing what the consequence is should the prescribed course of action fail. Signed acknowledgment of any document is critical to establishing clear communication. Clearly, employers should keep thorough and unbiased reports of their complaints and their good faith efforts in responding the the claims to ensure proper recourse.
What is often lost in this process is the impact of the proceedings internally. The emotions of the claimant and the accused can often impact the productivity of themselves but also the team and/or department involved. It is important that proper care is taken in communication so as not to injure the trust relationship that is needed to optimize productivity in the workplace. There are Do’s and Don’ts to this process. Every word is impactful and should be thoughtfully administered. Furthermore, every organization must communicate and uphold a No Retaliation Policy. Retaliation claims against employers filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are real and have been increasing in recent years. It is essential for all members of management, in addition to the human resources staff, to be trained in avoiding retaliation and preventing retaliation complaints from their employees.
Bottom line, ensure that you get help if a claim comes up and you do not have an objective internal person that is properly trained to handle the claim without inserting their opinion and emotions. Facts are critical to upholding a fair and unbiased document and every document should be treated as if it could end up in a court room. Lastly, never forget that you are dealing with people and the “Golden Rule” should apply; a person attempting to live by this rule treats all people with consideration.