Vicki Merchant and Helge Hoel
With growing evidence that workplace bullying represents a serious problem in many organisations (Hoel and Cooper, 2000; UNISON, 1997), the issue has rapidly moved upwards on many organisations' agendas. Faced with internal demands for action and the potential threat of litigation, policies and procedures for complaints and investigation are currently being developed, and in many cases have been implemented (Rayner et al., 2002).
In response to a bullying complaint organisations have a choice between using internal resources and resorting to external expertise. The decision to opt for an external investigator may be particularly appropriate where the organisation has little or no experience of investigating bullying or harassment complaints, where the alleged perpetrator holds a senior management position, or otherwise when the authority of an external person may be helpful during the investigation as well as in the aftermath of an investigation. The fact that an external specialist is able to dedicate time exclusively to an investigation may also make the process more efficient and effective. Whilst this chapter explores the investigation process from the perspective of the external investigator, many of the issues discussed below would also apply to an internal investigator.
The lead writer of this chapter has considerable experience in investigating bullying and harassment complaints in the UK. Her experience includes being examined and cross-examined in court both as an investigator and an expert witness on workplace bullying in the UK and abroad.
The first part of the chapter describes the investigation process, highlighting the importance of making strategic decisions up front. Key issues about administering the process and seeking evidence are also examined. The second part discusses some contentious issues, such as how to ensure objectivity and fairness of the process, and guidance on protecting the investigator.