It has been said there are two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in between. It can be a long and arduous journey just getting to the truth — if you ever get there. Once you do, it’s your call on how to handle the situation.
Real life occurrences are rarely concluded as definitively as on an episode of CSI. Employment issues are often comprised of complex, sometimes multiple issues, involving several individuals. Employers only have to make a determination based on the facts presented and decide who is in the wrong and discipline or terminate, if warranted.
Who Do You Believe?
First: Determine if any wrong doing has occurred. Don’t entangle yourself in the minutiae of each account if there is no relevancy to the incident.
Second: Determine what actually happened. Your determination hinges on the credibility of the interviewees. Take the following factors into consideration:
• History of allegations – has this person made allegations in the past? If so, were they substantiated? Is this a disgruntled employee?
• Testimony – is the information provided by interviewees consistent? Does the sequence of events match?
• Witness knowledge – is the information provided by the witness first-hand knowledge or hearsay?
• Instincts – watch for clues based on the interviewees’ behaviors? For example, did the interviewee avoid eye contact when responding to your questions? Was the interviewee crying when recounting the events?
• Body Language – does the interviewee exhibit open or closed posture? For example open posture may include relaxed, unfolded arms; good eye contact; forward facing, etc. Closed body posture may include crossed arms; poor eye contact; clenched fists; etc.
• Contradictions – look for inconsistencies in the events relayed by the complainant, accused and any witnesses.
• Inherently improbable – is the story really believable? If it seems unbelievable, keep asking questions. If it is untrue, the story will likely unravel itself through additional probing.
• Indirect admissions – did the person admit to something similar? Perhaps they did not do exactly what they are accused of, but are they admitting to something else?
• Motives to lie – do any of the interviewees (complainant, accused and witnesses) have motive not to tell the truth?
• Doesn’t answer the question – Asking a question that warrants an answer and the employee replies with a question, changes the subject, or gives an answer to a question that wasn’t asked, indicates avoidance. While it appears the interviewee is willing to assist in the investigation, they are refusing to answer the question.
In the end, it is up to you who you believe. Probe further if interviewees do not clearly answer questions. Ask questions more than once or phrase questions differently to identify inconsistencies.
Get it in Writing
Get initial statements written by hand from interviewees. A dishonest individual may tell on himself/herself or may find it difficult to recant their version of the events when questioned further. Compare written statements to questions asked during interviews to ensure individuals stick to the same story. If video surveillance is available, compare statements to tapings during the time period in question. You may notice an employee who is untruthful can’t recreate events to match actual events.
Document all responses to clearly show discrepancies. When you see it on paper, it may become crystal clear who is “telling the truth”. It may be that no one is telling the truth because everyone is guilty of something. In this case, everyone should be held accountable for their contributions to the incident and should be disciplined accordingly.
In conclusion, you may not always to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what actually happened, but you will be assured the most appropriate action was taken based on the information presented to you if your investigation was thorough, fair and unbiased.