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Add credibility to investigation notes by having employees acknowledge their accuracy

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If you interview employees during the course of investigating alleged misconduct, make sure to take accurate notes. Then, before concluding the interview, have the employee read and sign the notes, attesting that they accurately reflect what was said.

Advice: Don’t let the employee put off signing. In the early stages of an investigation, she’s likely to cooperate because she doesn’t yet know the outcome. If she has time to think about it, she may not sign.

Recent case: Beheen worked as a scientist for a Florida water management district. One of her supervisors filed a sexual harassment complaint against her. He told the investigators that Beheen propositioned him for sex, sent him provocative notes and exposed her breasts to him in an effort to entice him into a relationship.

When the district interviewed Beheen, she denied the accusations and asserted that the two had actually engaged in a consensual sexual relationship. She did admit writing several notes discussing their relationship. She signed off on the interviewer’s notes, agreeing that they accurately reflected who said what during the interview. Beheen ultimately lost her job.

She then sued, alleging she had been targeted because of her gender. She also claimed the investigation had been bogus and that the notes didn’t reflect what she actually said during the interview. But the former employer showed the notes to the court.

The court said Beheen could not challenge the notes as an accurate account of the interview since she had signed them. That made it hard for her to deny that she essentially admitted propositioning the supervisor. (Moghaddam-Trimble v. South Florida Waste Management, No. 11-14040, 11th Cir., 2012)

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