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Navigate a legal minefield

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

An employee comes to you complaining of harassment, discrimination or another serious personnel problem. Your job is to investigate. Beware of these traps as you gather information and seek to close the case:

Playing amateur lawyer. After hearing a complaint, don't judge certain acts as unlawful. Stick to fact gathering. Avoid saying, "I think that qualifies as harassment" or "We've got a discrimination matter here." Using such loaded words will delight your employee's attorney.

Expressing an inflammatory apology. If you're going to apologize to the accused for an investigation that proves fruitless, say, "I'm sorry that this happened" and leave it at that. Avoid an apology that inflames the situation ("I'm sorry that your reputation was hurt").

Confiding in allies. Confidentiality is critical during investigations. You may assume it's safe to e-mail or talk about the situation with trusted third parties at work, but such conversations can come back to bite you.

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