What it takes to be a good investigator in a unionized environment is to first have the proper training and expertise. Nothing is worse than being thrown to the wolves as a novice investigator–in a union shop environment. Bad idea. Get with a seasoned labor relations’ manager/investigator and do a “right seat ride” for a while, learning the ropes of investigating. You’ll learn a lot of tips and techniques, particularly in how to communicate effectively and take control of the investigative process, especially during interviews.
Another important aspect is having a reputation for being impartial. If you are an HR or ER/LR professional reading this blog, it may be that you’ve become so involved in all aspects of managing employees: benefits, payroll, ER issues, Labor issues–that when it comes to you wearing the actual hat of “investigator”, you may very well be approaching a case with a whole lot of bias. And, bias gets you in a lot of trouble with unions. This is the stuff that arbitrations are made of. Why? Here’s a scenario: Let’s say you had a harassment case about eight months ago, and you thought it was a “b.s.” complaint, as the timing of the complaint was right after the employee got a write-up… and after spending a ton of time, your findings were that the employee basically made up false allegations. Yet, you just didn’t have enough evidence to prove the employee made an intentionally false complaint… As you closed out the case, you did your best to coach the employee on how to get along with his manager. And, let’s just say that “coaching” session did not go well with this employee. And, this employee and his union steward left your office with an attitude… So, you’ve got “history” with this employee that isn’t positive, and perhaps you don’t even like him, personally.
So, now fast forward 8 months… An allegation of theft is made, and the accused is the SAME employee who lodged a harassment complaint that was borderline fraudulent…which you recall ticked you off when you handled that case a while back. So, now you’re going to have to interact with this same guy–but to investigate him for a theft issue in which he is the accused. You see the problem? So, if you investigate the guy, the union may try to position their argument that you were biased from the beginning and “had it in” for the union member. Even if you were to run your investigation with the utmost of integrity and objectivity–it’s the perception that will get you every time. Remember: think through a case before just jumping into it, as you may not be the right fit for a particular case. Sometimes it’s better to recuse yourself, to minimize problems down the line with grievance hearings and arbitration.
Until next time…
Natalie Ivey,MBA, SPHR
President & CEO
Results Performance Consulting, Inc.