The Growth Company's Dr. Lynne Curry Unveils to Clients the Benefits of 3rd Party Investigations

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The Growth Company’s CEO, Dr. Lynne Curry unveils ways to conduct fair, transparent and unbiased workplace investigations and the benefits that follow them.

The unbiased approach

Experienced investigators know how to make the dozens of judgment calls necessary to do a thorough, unbiased investigation

The Growth Company’s CEO, author Dr. Lynne Curry, SPHR, regularly conducts third party investigations for Alaskan attorneys and also serves as an expert witness on workplace issues. Today, with the help of a few local attorneys, she reveals to several inquiring clients the benefits of third party investigations.

A recent client allegedly received a letter from a former employee accusing her company of a racially hostile environment. The letter allegedly quotes comments allegedly made by two of her staff. She knows her employees wouldn’t make those comments so she considered the letter an extortionist attempt.

Another client was allegedly cornered by a newly hired employee in the hallway. A female coworker allegedly sexually harassed her when they traveled together on a company project. The client said it was too much information and wanted to know what to do.

Dr. Curry tells these clients they should investigate right away. According to attorney Tom Van Flein, “Investigating serious allegations is good business and good legal protection. Without the investigation, you don’t know where you stand or what you’re up against. By promptly investigating issues, management shows both good faith and adherence to anti-discrimination and fair treatment policies.”

Next, Dr. Curry says that clients should use a neutral third party. Although management could investigate the situation themselves, “You’ve got to use an independent investigator,” says attorney Nelson Page. “If you don’t, every conclusion drawn from the investigation is subject to question by those involved and by enforcement agencies. In any except the most simple or basic situations you need to find someone who is both independent and perceived as independent.”

Quite often clients ask if their HR officer could investigate – or someone from their law firm? “Unless the employer has a large HR department,” says attorney Kim Colbo, “it may not have anyone experienced enough to conduct a quality investigation. Employers who use their own staff to handle complaints internally may face additional allegations their investigation was neither neutral nor fair. If the complaint ends up in litigation and an independent investigator conducted the investigation a jury may view an independent investigator’s testimony as more credible. Also, if we as attorneys conduct the investigation, we risk becoming a necessary witness and disqualified from representing our client in litigation.”

Attorney Lee Holen agrees. “Although the HR department can sometimes investigate in less complex matters, the attorney needs to consider how close the investigator is to the individuals to be investigated and the incident. If there is any doubt that the interviews and investigation appear completely impartial, it is better to use an independent third party investigator.” Also, notes attorney Van Flein “neutral third party investigators can be direct and honest without worrying about offending management.” Further, says attorney turned HR consultant Andy Brown, “interviewees interviewed by a non-attorney often relax and offer more information to someone not presented as an attorney.”

Next, Dr. Curry says to avoid unpleasant surprises, use caution when selecting a third party investigator. “Pick someone experienced,” says attorney turned HR consultant Andy Brown. “You can’t afford the learning mistakes a green investigator makes.”

According to Dr. Curry, experienced investigators know how to get sufficient rapport to get most interviewees talking, how to probe harder when necessary, how to ask questions without putting ideas into an interviewee’s head and how to recognize when a manipulative interviewee plays a game, and how to make the dozens of judgment calls necessary to do a thorough, unbiased investigation.

Also, Dr. Curry explains experienced investigators know how to let those requesting confidentiality know they can’t promise it without scaring interviewees into silence. Most importantly, experienced investigators know when and with what to contact a person’s legal adviser to ensure they’re protected if the information uncovered reveals unpleasant surprises.

Finally, Dr. Curry states that in terms of terms of unpleasant surprises in the above situation, the sooner management knows what happened, the more effectively management and its attorney can assess the problem and resolve it before litigation results. If litigation occurs despite management’s best efforts, the neutral third party’s detailed, factual report and findings may vindicate the company.

Although not an attorney, Curry is a member of the Alaska Bar Association’s employment law section and author of Managing Equally and Legally, McFarland and Company, 1990 and can be reached at http://www.thegrowthcompany.com and 907-276-4769.

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