Setting objectives for workplace investigations

Setting objectives for workplace investigations

Objectives for Workplace Investigations
 Workplace investigations are complex and stressful procedures for everyone involved. They can be time-consuming and often emotions further complicate the process. People might be scared of losing their job, unknowingly breaching laws or making false allegations. The workplace consists of diverse people with different perspectives of what is wrong and right, and under pressure, it is normal for HR and managers to make mistakes. How can mistakes be prevented?

What are workplace investigations?

 Workplace investigations examine the breach of law or workplace policies. They deal with allegations of workplace misconduct and conflict that could include harassment and bullying. Allegations can be formal or informal and while some complaints don’t require an investigation, employers have a duty of care towards their employees. This means they need to explore each accusation and take it seriously.

 An investigation aims to collect facts and resolve an issue in a fair process for employees and managers. A judgement will need to be made based on the information that was gathered. As mentioned above, investigations are complicated so there is little to no certainty that everyone will be happy with the result.

Ramifications of inaccurate investigations

 Wrongful conduct is a serious allegation that has a huge impact on workplace culture. Even if an employee has made numerous unsubstantiated complaints, HR and managers need to look into each one and determine whether there is an issue.

 Defects in investigations that show a lack of meaningful action could lead to wrong decisions and unfair outcomes. Employees will be impacted negatively and face unforeseen consequences in their lives. It could affect their job, their income, their mental health and their overall wellbeing as they are being wrongfully accused of something they didn’t commit.

 Incomplete or one-sided investigations could potentially result in unfair dismissals. In 2012 John Ryan was fired from the Department of Human Services for leaking information. The Fair Work commission concluded that the reasons for firing him were appropriate but the dismissal was unfair. This was because the investigation that took place prior to the dismissal was very short and vague. A more thorough investigation should have been conducted to ensure that all evidence and facts were taken into consideration. The Department of Human Services had to compensate John Ryan for not reviewing all the information.

Objectives for investigations

 Preparation and planning are crucial for a comprehensive and fair investigation. It is clear that investigations are complex processes that require a number of steps and could have unwanted consequences. Setting objectives allows HR to have a logical plan of action and make knowledgeable decisions. It also ensures that the process is faster and the correct resolution is reached.

These objectives include:

  •         Being aware of all relevant parties
  •         Identify the issues and relevant evidence
  •         Having the correct attitude and being objective
  •         Has company policy or the law been violated?
  •         Taking meaningful actions towards resolution

Each of these objectives relies on a responsive investigator who is aware of employees and employers’ rights.

Being aware of all the parties of all relevant parties

 Knowing everyone involved in the incident is very helpful for a smooth interview process. In most cases those are:

  •         The party making the complaint/allegation
  •         The party being accused
  •         Managers and HR
  •         Supervisors
  •         Any witnesses that could confirm the validity of the allegations

 The investigator needs to know the position each person holds in the workplace and in the incident. It will assist them in understanding why they are being questioned and then explain the purpose to those being interviewed. The investigator could be internal or external depending on the business’s decision.

 Discussions need to be confidential for many reasons. The person making the complaint might not feel comfortable being identifiable and information about the issue leaking into the workplace environment could affect the productivity of other employees. Information collected should be confidential and kept within those involved. Failure to do so could result in the reputation of the accused and the accuser being damaged. However, employees might need to be notified so they can provide more evidence if needed. In that case, specific details could be disclosed to staff to ensure a lawful result.

Parties involved in workplace investigations

Identify the issues and relevant evidence

The goal of each interview should be to get a clear understanding of what the underlying problem is. It is not enough to investigate the surface of the dispute. Investigators need to do thorough research and determine what caused the issue to occur. They need to understand why the party being accused made those decisions and how those decisions affected the business and its stakeholders. In the case of John Ryan, the Department of Human Services interviewed only him and no one else, and even though they asked for his psychologist’s report, they didn’t collect any further documentation and made their decision rashly.

 Depending on the conflict, investigators need to be prepared to ask for proof and certain evidence to be provided to support the claims being made. The evidence could vary in nature and could be witnesses, data or any other information relevant to the incident. Evidence is important because it will be used in the resolution process as well. Failure to gather all relevant information could result in an unjust conclusion.

Having the correct attitude and being objective

 The attitude of the investigator will influence the ability of interviewees to provide information in an honest and precise manner. Aggressiveness should be avoided even if the matter is serious. It can make all parties feel attacked and less likely to cooperate. A professional and neutral demeanour is necessary to make employees feel that the purpose of the interview is to gain knowledge rather than accuse them of wrongdoing.

 Sympathy should be shown to all parties and there shouldn’t be any level of bias expressed or assumptions based on past events. If there is any doubt that bias might be present during the investigation then an external investigator could be a good solution. The staff involved should be updated on the progress of the investigation and each report needs to be clear of any judgemental or inflammatory language.

 The investigator needs to be objective and look at the facts rather than the emotions being displayed by the parties. This will avoid ‘He said, she said’ situations and rumours of the investigation being biased towards or undermined by a certain party. Interview notes should be completed before starting the next interview to allow for information to be verified. It will also ensure that all proof is being analysed carefully and evidence isn’t skipped. Personal opinions should not be a factor and for this reason, an investigator shouldn’t be someone with a conflict of interest.

Has company policy or the law been violated?

 Based on the facts gathered, a decision needs to be made on whether the law or the company policy has been breached. Australian legislation governs the laws and regulations in a workplace. Moreover, companies have their own policies that may have been breached. 

Breach of law is criminal and could have consequences outside of the workplace while company policy usually only has ramifications within that specific company. The seriousness of the actions must be determined and the way in which certain actions breach a law or policy must be outlined. For example, discrimination based on gender within a workplace is covered by the Fair Work Act, and actions deemed discriminatory under the act violate the law and could give rise to legal consequences. 

Establishing whether the actions fall under company policy or statutory law is a crucial step in resolving an investigation. It is important to remember that investigations conducted unfairly or without correct procedure could violate statutory and common law, such as an employer’s duty of care towards their employees.

Taking meaningful actions toward resolution

 The resources that the investigator uses during the process should ensure that no shortcuts were taken. This will allow for corrective action to occur in a fair and accurate manner. After all evidence has been collected and all relevant parties should be informed of the outcome of the investigation. The misconduct needs to cease to prevent any future damage. A good investigation report will need to be written to cover everything in the investigation. 

The final report should include

  •         The misconduct
  •         The timeframe in which the misconduct took place
  •         Who were those affected?
  •         How did it affect the workplace?

 The company needs to make decisions on how to deal with the issue and what corrective action is required. The policies of the company might need to be changed to avoid similar situations happening in the future. HR and managers need to be prepared to support those involved in the incident and provide support to those who need it. The support could include counselling or paid leave.  If termination is required, the company needs to show that it reached this decision in a fair and lawful manner.

Conclusion

 The company should agree on the best strategy for conducting the investigation before initiating it as objectives could be hard to change after some form of action has already been taken. Ensuring that employees feel safe and cared for at work should be the number one priority. Managers and HR owe the duty of care to anyone that works for their company and improving business culture benefits them by increasing productivity as a result of decreasing workplace conflict.

How can Polonious help?

Polonious’ Case Management software allows investigators to undertake accurate and fair investigations. It assists with storing notes and evidence safely and documenting every relevant action that has taken place.  Its ISO27001 certified security ensures the secure management of the evidence and files. This will prevent the leak of sensitive materials and provide complete employee confidentiality. 

Polonious can also make investigations less time-consuming by streamlining brief and letter preparation and ensuring that everything is a few clicks away. By having everything in one place; notes, relevant parties and evidence, investigations can be completed smoothly.

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Learn more about how Polonious can help you conduct a fair and organised workplace investigation.
Top 6 Interview Tips for Corporate Fraud Investigations

Top 6 Interview Tips for Corporate Fraud Investigations

In today’s economic climate, corporate fraud is rife on all levels, and though it often goes undetected, it can be catastrophically damaging to both individuals and corporations. PwC’s Global Economic Crime and Fraud Survey reports, internal perpetrators represent nearly half of all reported frauds.

Learn more about the different types of fraud in our 4-part series of corporate fraud where we cover:

Also, take a look at our blog: Top 6 Internal Investigations Pitfalls to Avoid in order to avoid making the same mistakes and to protect against risk.

A corporate fraud investigation is essential to gather evidence, identify defendants and trace misappropriated assets. When interviewing the suspect, an interviewer’s questions may lead directly to the truth or to a web of deception. A good interviewer applies a variety of techniques to ensure that the interview yields the most accurate and truthful answers.

This blog will cover Top 6 Interview Tips for Corporate Fraud Investigations.

Start with Background Questions

Every fraud interview should start as a simple conversation. The goal is to learn some background information while building rapport with the interviewee. After stating the purpose of the interview, start with questions regarding the interviewee’s background, including:

  • How long have you been at the company?
  • What job titles have you had, and what are the responsibilities of your current title?
  • What is your normal day like? Normal week? Normal month?

Once certain responsibilities of the interviewee have been established, ask for some detail on their tasks. Ask questions like:

  • How do you personally stay organised? What tasks do you prioritise?
  • When performing the month-end reconciliations, when are they due? Who reviews your work? Do they ever have review points? Do they sign off promptly?
  • Who covers your responsibilities if you’re out? Who do you interact with the most in the office on a daily basis? Who do you rely on to provide the data/documentation for you to be able to complete your tasks?

Spending the time to learn about the interviewee and the responsibilities of their position will set a nice tone for the interview. Encouraging the interviewee to talk about themselves helps earn some trust and develop rapport. Through this line of questioning, information can be learned about their position within the company and exposure to other employees, processes and controls. This can be valuable to the current interview and other interviews conducted throughout the investigation. It is important to start with background questions and to remain calm despite the stress that may come along with investigating a potential case of corporate fraud.

Set a Relaxed Tone

Sit across from the interviewee if possible, and assume a relaxed physical position. Use a smile and direct eye contact to begin the interview with a light and relaxed mood because dealing with a potential case of corporate fraud can be stressful for everyone involved. Use some summarised notes to keep you organised for the interview, but employ them as little as possible to keep from appearing disinterested or unengaged. Writing notes throughout the interview is typically necessary, but they should be written down quickly and in a summarised fashion, so as not to cause alarm or appear concealing to the interviewee.

Explain who you are and the purpose of the interview. Don’t lie about the reason you are talking, but keep it light. Examples might include:

  • “This is just a standard part of our internal control procedures for the audit”
  • “We just need to understand further details about a specific financial area, and you are one of the people we were told to speak to”
  • “These interviews are all just part of an improvement study for certain systems/processes”

It is unnecessary to explicitly state the possibility of corporate fraud, especially because none of this is confirmed. The purpose of a successful investigation, is to derive accurate information rather than pro/disprove a potential case of corporate fraud. Start the interview by asking the interviewee how long they’ve been with the company. Ask what their specific job responsibilities are, who they report to, what a typical day is like for them. Earn their trust by listening and asking open-ended questions to allow them to keep speaking. Interviewees inherently become more comfortable when asked to speak about themselves, as well as when someone takes an interest in what they do each day. Ask for more detail when they speak of certain forms, lists, software or interactions that they have throughout the day.

The first 5 minutes of any one-on-one interview is the most crucial phase. You can create trust or distrust within the interviewee within seconds, based on your demeanour, attitude, and physical appearance.

Ask the Right Questions

Many interviewers tend to follow a script when performing interviews. Typically this list of questions is universal to all interviews for the day and asks common questions about seeing or reporting corporate fraud, seeing or reporting strange or unusual behaviour, etc. Although straightforward in nature, these questions will rarely get an interviewee to divulge information that the interviewer may find useful or informative. An interviewer can ask more appropriate questions throughout an interview that fulfil the requirements of these questions, without asking them verbatim.

Using specific questions about unusual behaviour in each of the interviewee’s job responsibility areas may be much more effective than a general question of abnormal activity within the organisation. Instead of asking a payroll clerk whether she knows of or has seen any cases of corporate fraud within the organisation, it makes much more sense to ask whether she has seen any odd entries or deletions in the payroll system, whether she’s ever been asked to override the system in some manner, what weaknesses exist within the hiring/termination process and whether past errors in timekeeping and paychecks were handled appropriately.

Use the following tips and lines of questioning to strengthen your interviews:

  • Converse about an interviewee’s daily responsibilities using open-ended questions regarding atypical situations that might occur, and brainstorm with the interviewee about weaknesses in the process and how a corporate fraud or scheme could occur.
  • Identify specific interviewee responsibilities that are prone to fraud and ask about instances in which they struggled to complete their tasks or had issues related to abnormalities within the process.
  • Ask about areas that the interviewee used to be responsible for in the past that have since been taken away from them, and understand the reasoning behind the change.
  • Ask what changes the interviewee would make to the process if they were in charge, and why.
  • Ask the interviewee the main thing about their job that “keeps them up at night.” Typically, areas that concern or worry an employee the most may have levels of uncertainty that are indicative of risk, misstatement, or fraud.
  • Finally, begin asking whether they have seen corporate fraud or unusual behaviour within any of the areas they work in, or in other departments.

By empowering the interviewee throughout the interview, you not only develop a trusted rapport with them, but you initiate a thought process within them that is more likely to remember and report anomalies from the past.

Dive into Deeper Questions

Once deep into an interview for a potential case of corporate fraud, interviewers are in a good position to start asking the harder questions. If this is a general fraud interview with no suspicion of corporate fraud, it’s time to ask the direct questions, such as:

  • Have you participated in or witnessed fraudulent or questionable behaviour within the company?
  • Have you ever been asked to participate in or ignore a fraudulent act with the company?
  • Are there any activities of the company that you consider fraudulent, immoral or criminal?

If this is a corporate fraud investigation with specific allegations, now is the time to begin focusing on the known allegations, as well as any inconsistencies within the interview. Interviewers may want to begin to cross-reference their responsibilities with the information shared at the beginning of the interview, such as how they stay organised, who they report to, etc.

At the beginning of the interview, interviewees may exaggerate their responsibilities, motivated by a desire to tell the interviewer what they think they want to hear. But as the interviewer asks more questions and gets into more of the details of their responsibilities, shortcuts may be revealed, tasks they complete that aren’t reviewed, checks and balances that are being ignored or areas where their story just doesn’t add up. A good interviewer won’t let these items pass by. As these discrepancies are identified and real processes are clarified, interviewers should develop a clearer picture of the company, the likelihood of fraud and the potential involvement of the interviewee.

Remain Objective

With any investigation into allegations of corporate fraud or workplace misconduct, it is imperative that the investigator maintains a neutral and objective approach, and does not make “cut corners” in the investigation process. Following the proper procedurally fair process will not only ensure that your investigation is beyond unfounded criticism, it will also mean that you are being truly diligent in obtaining, collating, comparing and critically examining the evidence and making reliable conclusions on it.

Ensure Clarity

One major shortcoming in inexperienced fraud interviewers is their reluctance to reconfirm statements, revisit subjects and ask for more examples. Often, interviewers don’t like to give the impression that they don’t understand or need a second explanation, but this step is crucial to a successful interview. Revisiting a subject multiple times and asking for more examples not only provides clarity, but can also identify inconsistencies in the interviewee’s statements. Interviewers should regularly go back through the details of a certain procedure or process that the interviewee has already explained, asking for more detail and examples, with questions like:

  • I don’t understand this specific process. Can you explain to me what the senior accountant’s role is again?
  • It doesn’t make sense to me that the checks are signed without the supporting documentation present. Can you walk me through the process again so I can understand the timing of the review?

The least of an interviewer’s worries should be looking uninformed or foolish. Nothing should get in the way of gaining a full understanding of what the interviewee is explaining.

How Polonious can help you fight corporate fraud

Corporate fraud is a risk to all businesses regardless of size or industry. Being able to conduct an effective internal investigation is essential for the day-to-day operation of your organisation. There are countless tools you can use to run investigations more efficiently and effectively. 

A well-conducted internal investigation helps ensure that those who have engaged in improper conduct are identified as having done so, and are dealt with appropriately. It can also ensure that those who have been wrongly suspected or accused of having engaged in improper conduct have their circumstances clarified and the suspicion removed. Polonious provides an investigation workflow tool which creates consistent, procedurally fair investigations while minimising admin work through automation.

Polonious’ ISO27001 certified security ensures your evidence and case files are stored securely, while our detailed security configuration ensures you can keep employees fully anonymous, or known only to specific individuals, depending on the level of anonymity requested.

An effective internal investigation helps reinforce better workplaces and protects the company from large fines, damages, negative publicity, etc. As the fraud environment becomes increasingly complex, we can help you detect and prevent corporate fraud by ensuring effective corporate governance.

A corporate fraud investigation is essential to gather evidence, identify defendants and trace misappropriated assets. These Top 6 Interview Tips for Corporate Fraud Investigations will teach you a variety of techniques to ensure that the interview yields the most accurate and truthful answers.

A corporate fraud investigation is essential to gather evidence, identify defendants and trace misappropriated assets.

These Top 6 Interview Tips for Corporate Fraud Investigations will teach you a variety of techniques to ensure that the interview yields the most accurate and truthful answers.

With any investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct, it is imperative that the investigator maintains a neutral and objective approach, and does not make “cut corners” in the investigation process.

With any investigation into allegations of corporate fraud and/or workplace misconduct, it is imperative that the investigator maintains a neutral and objective approach, and does not make “cut corners” in the investigation process.

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Learn more on how Polonious helps clients run successful investigations

Using Social Media in Investigations

Using Social Media in Investigations

Just about everyone has some form of social media these days. At the end of Q4 2021, Facebook reported 1.9 billion active daily users, and 2.9 billion active monthly users. Add to that Instagram’s 500 million active daily users and Snapchat’s 319 million active daily users, and you have a valuable pool of information and evidence for private investigators. 

There are broadly two types of information that can captured from social media, which are:

Incriminating content that subjects inadvertently upload themselves

People often post so much of their lives on social media that they may accidentally share something that incriminates them or contradicts their legal claim. 

For example, a woman made an insurance claim stating that she had suffered serious injuries due to a motor vehicle accident. However, her insurance company found posts on the woman’s social media accounts of her snowboarding and scuba diving during the time she was supposed to be injured. The insurance company was then able to prove that her claim was fraudulent.

Incriminating content uploaded by third parties

Social media can still be a useful tool in investigating those who are not very active on these platforms or have a private profile. In the case of major car accidents, it is possible that a bystander will capture footage of the crash and upload it onto Facebook, Twitter or Youtube.

In 2015, a man in the US claimed that he had crashed his $60,000 Corvette whilst driving on the Interstate. It was later discovered by investigators from Youtube footage that he had actually crashed the sportscar into a barrier during a drag-race. 

 

Tips for Using Social Media in Investigations

Consider all platforms

There are so many different platforms out there when it comes to social media. Some of the more common ones include:

Facebook

As the most popular social media site, Facebook provides investigators access to an extensive range of information. Investigators can view years of posts and photos to see:

  • Photos the user has posted
  • What cities they have travelled to 
  • What cities they have lived in
  • What events they have attended
  • What pages they like
  • What content they post on their page
  • Who they interact with on their profile most frequently
  • Who they are friends with

In 2012, a Burger King employee was fired after posting a picture of himself on Facebook standing in lettuce containers. Internet sleuths were able to determine the location of the photo using GPS data in the image, who then forwarded it to news outlets in the area. 

Twitter

This platform is very public and is more impersonal than Facebook. Users usually follow celebrities as well as their friends, and post tweets that are unflattering or things they wouldn’t want their Facebook friends to see (such as family members and professional connections). Investigators will be able to see someone’s interests, hobbies, and connections.

Instagram

This platform emphasises sharing high quality, edited photos with a user’s followers. The types of information that investigators can find through a person’s Instagram includes where they have been (via geographical tagging), what they are interested in, and who they spend time with.

Other Platforms

Although the platforms mentioned above are the most common social media platforms that people use, there are many others out there. In fact, there are around 200 widely used social media sites at the moment, and limiting your investigation to only the top 2 or 3 could mean you are missing out on a lot of valuable evidence.

In 2019, a claim of serious physical injury was proven false when posts were discovered – on the fitness-oriented social media platform Strava – of runs and bike rides during the time the claimant was supposed to be injured 

 

Obtain Evidence Legally and Ethically

As alluded to above, a person with a private profile will make it difficult for an investigator to find information on them through their social media. As a result, investigators may be tempted to engage in pretexting.

Pretexting occurs when someone tries to convince their victim to give up valuable information by using a story to fool the victim. The investigator may pretend to be an acquaintance or friend to get inside the person’s network and access information not available to the public.

However, this practice does raise legal and ethical questions. There are some states in the US that have found that “the admissibility of evidence is not affected by the means through which it is obtained,” meaning that pretexting has been deemed admissible in these states. In California though, it is illegal to “knowingly and without consent credibly impersonate another actual person through or on an Internet Website.” 

To be on the safe side, it is best that your investigation only focuses on publicly available information to avoid doing the wrong thing.

 

Preserve all Evidence

Given the ever-changing nature of social media, posts available one day may be deleted or made private the next day. Investigators need to ensure that they properly capture and preserve all evidence they find.

This is particularly important during workplace harassment or bullying investigations. Employees who are subject to cyber bullying may bring messages or posts to their employer’s attention. If proper steps aren’t taken to preserve this evidence, these messages and posts may be deleted by the other party and it will be a case of he said she said. 

Screencasts can be used to digital record a computer screen and capture words, images and the interactivity between pages. A webcast narration can also be used by the investigator to record themselves talking about what they are seeing. 

Facebook has a feature which allows users to download a copy of their entire history. This is particularly useful when investigating matters months or years in the past. While some subjects may willingly hand over their Facebook histories, investigators may need to compel the subject to hand over the information in some situations. 

 

Act Quickly

For similar reasons as above, investigators need to act quickly when gathering evidence from their subject’s social media. Once someone becomes aware that they are being investigated, it is likely that they will start deleting incriminating evidence from their social media accounts, or even delete their accounts completely. Hence, investigators should immediately capture any piece of relevant evidence that appears on their subject’s social media accounts. 

 

Authentication

Investigators need to ensure that all evidence they collect from social media is authentic. Doing so can be as easy as asking the subject if they, in fact, made the post. However, investigators should also be wary that judges have, in the past, ruled evidence from Facebook inadmissible due to an attorney’s suggestion that their client’s account had been hacked.

Other methods of authentication include recording the IP addresses responsible for social media posts to verify who actually posted it. Investigators could also look into internet browsing history and witness testimonies to authenticate evidence. Finally, emailing posts to others or yourself can validate the time at which it was posted as well as act as a way of preserving the post.

 

How Polonious Can Help

Polonious has integrations with numerous OSINT sources, including Social Discovery, which focuses on social media.

Social Discovery will allow you to access comprehensive social media analytics. With one click you can generate reports that load back onto the case automatically. These reports are easy-to-consume, accurate, and can be customised to your investigation needs. You will need a Social Discovery account, paid separately from Polonious, to access this service. 

To learn more about other integrations that Polonious currently offers or is working on, check out this link.

Conclusion

Social media is quickly becoming one of the most effective sources of information for investigations. However, there are a number of considerations that companies should keep in mind when conducting investigations using social media, which include using all available platforms, obtaining evidence legally and ethically, acting quickly, and preserving and authenticating all evidence. Doing so will ensure that investigations run as smoothly as possible. 

 

 

 

social media

Investigators should avoid using pretexting to obtain evidence.

Facebook

Facebook has a feature which allows users to download a copy of their entire history.

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Learn more about how Polonious can help you implement an effective and confidential whistleblower hotline.

22 Free and Affordable Tools for Investigators

22 Free and Affordable Tools for Investigators

In today’s technological world, it is almost guaranteed that there is an app for everything. In addition to personal use, apps have professional applications as well.

Investigators have at their fingertips a plethora of useful tools and resources, from software and smartphone apps to digital research resources, state-of-the-art communications technology and nifty surveillance gadgets

However, these can be extremely costly and not be feasible options for many investigators. Fortunately, there are thousands of free and cheap resources that can help you conduct your investigations more efficiently and effectively.

This blog will outline 22 Free and Affordable Tools for Investigators.

Tools for Planning Investigations

  • Calendar Apps

Google Calendar

Because Google Calendar is linked to your Gmail account, you can seamlessly access your calendar anywhere and from any device. For extra convenience, events are automatically added from your Gmail to your Calendar.

Microsoft Outlook Calendar

Outlook combines email, calendar, and contacts in one application. This is a great calendar app for those who are Microsoft users.

Apple Calendar

Apple Calendar is the default calendar on Macs, iPhones and iPads. Everything syncs by default using iCloud, or you can set up Apple Calendar to sync with Google Calendar, Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo, and any calendar platform that uses CalDAV. Setting this up is as easy as connecting an email client app to another email account.

Tools for Conducting Research

There are many types of evidence to consider during a workplace investigation, take a look at our blog to understand the 6 types of evidence you may encounter and how you can use them.

  • Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)

Open Source Intelligence, often abbreviated as OSINT, is data and information that is collected legally from open and publicly available resources. Obtaining the information doesn’t require any type of clandestine effort and it is retrieved in a manner that is legal and meets copyright requirements.

Open-source data and information are available in a variety of places, most of which are accessible via the internet. Examples include:

  • Public records databases
  • Government reports, documents, and websites
  • The internet
  • Mass media (e.g. newspapers, TV, radio, magazines, and websites)
  • Social networks, social media sites, user account profiles, posts, and tags
  • Maps and commercial imagery
  • Photos, images, videos

Take a look at other ways you can dig deeper than a web search to conduct better investigations. While there’s a lot of free information that is accessible, there are paid tools that can make searching all of these things easier. Our Polonious Configurers understand how to access the deep case data and can share many examples of how to use it with your team. Take a look at some of the tools we already integrate with in our blog.

  • Capturing Online Data

Using the Web for conducting research is the new norm, but there’s a risk associated with collecting data and information this way. When you do find what you’re looking for online, you’ll need to capture it before it’s been modified, hidden, or erased. Luckily, there are free investigation tools for this.

CamStudio

Record all screen and audio activity that takes place on your computer and easily turn them into AVI video files that can be saved and shared. Camstudio is free for personal and professional use.

Screencast-o-Matic

Alternatively, Screencast-o-Matic captures your screen’s activity and, if you use your webcam, you can customise your video with narration. There are both free and pro options with varying features.

Veed Screen Recorder

Capture your screen and/or webcam activity using your choice of layout. Then, edit your recording with Veed’s online video editor. You can even add layers, subtitles and images. Veed is free to use.

  1. Digital Forensics Tools

Digital evidence can exist on a number of different platforms and in many different forms. Forensic investigation often includes analysis of files, emails, network activity and other potential artifacts and sources of clues to the scope, impact and attribution of an incident.

4Discovery

4Discovery offers different options to extract metadata (document history, usage, authors and contributors), look at USB history and much more. 

Google Takeout Convertor

Google Takeout Convertor ​​converts archived email messages from Google Takeout along with all attachments. This software helps investigate officers to extract, process, and interpret the factual evidence.

Tools for Investigation Interviews

  1. Recording Interviews

Digital Recorder

Use a digital recorder to record your interviews with minimal background noise. 

Memory stick and voice recorder

The greatest advantage of digital voice recorders over older digital tape recorders is that they have no moving parts, which make a lot of noise. Thus, your interview recordings are crisp and clear.

Tripod Phone Holder

Today’s smartphones have great cameras, great audio recording capabilities and tons of storage. Use your phone to videotape investigations with a tripod phone holder.

Tools for Writing Investigation Reports

  1. Report Writing

Grammarly

Grammarly scans your text for common grammatical mistakes (like misused commas) and complex ones (like misplaced modifiers). Ensure that your report is free from typos and grammatical errors.

ProWriting Aid

ProWriting Aid offers world-class grammar and style checking, combined with more in-depth reports to help you strengthen your writing. This tool can enhance the readability of your document.

  1. Scan, send and documenting files

Evernote Scannable

Scan contracts, receipts, business cards, and any paper that comes your way quickly and efficiently. Then, save or send these high-quality scans by email. If you already have Evernote, you’ll love this app. 

Text Grabber

TextGrabber easily and quickly scans, translates and saves your chosen text or QR-codes from virtually any printed material. This app can also translate.

Additionally, take a look at Documenting a Workplace Investigation: 3 Things to Know to better understand relevant laws, key documents to record and benefits of proper documentation and record keeping practices.

Tools for Managing Investigations

  1. Reminder and Monitoring Tools

Google Alerts

Set up an alert on the subject’s name, nickname and alias to monitor what they’re up to and receive notifications when new results appear.

Mention

Pick a couple of keywords (names) to keep an eye on and Mention monitors the web and social networks. The app then sends alerts daily or weekly.

  1. File Sharing and Collaboration Tools

Drop Box

This software offers secure file sharing and storage solutions. Packages include Dropbox Basic for infrequent, basic investigations, and Dropbox Business with extra storage and enterprise-level support.

Google Drive

With Google’s file storage and synchronisation service, you’ll get access to all of your files from anywhere on any device. Share it with anyone who has a Gmail and let them view, download and collaborate.

  1. Securing Files

Veracrypt

Add enhanced security with on-the-fly encryption (OTFE) to protect your important files online and offline.

AxCrypt

This app offers strong encryption, password management and multilingual interfaces. For added convenience, AxCrypt lets you collaborate with others, store your files in the cloud and access your encrypted files from your phone.

How Polonious Can Help Investigators

Although Office Tools have uses, take a look at our blog to understand why everyday office apps like word processors and spreadsheets are not up to the task for real-world investigation teams. Polonious ensures there is a single framework that controls the workflow, security, reporting and audit requirements necessary for every investigation.

Being able to conduct an effective internal investigation is essential for the day-to-day operation of your organisation. A well-conducted internal investigation helps ensure that those who have engaged in improper conduct are identified as having done so, and are dealt with appropriately. It can also ensure that those who have been wrongly suspected or accused of having engaged in improper conduct have their circumstances claried and the suspicion removed.

Companies will often establish an internal investigation in response to significant events or allegations of wrongdoing. However, minor errors can lead to significant repercussions for employees, employers and companies alike. However, these can be prevented by following the best practices while utilising the right tools. Take a look at our blog to understand common pitfalls in internal investigations so you can avoid them.

For instance, all physical evidence must be stored securely and logged. Digital evidence needs to be authenticated, captured, preserved and stored somewhere as well. The Polonious case management system allows investigators and HR teams to document evidence and important documents in a secure, organised and accessible manner. 

Polonious’ ISO27001 certified security ensures your evidence and case files are stored securely, while our detailed security configuration ensures you can keep employees fully anonymous, or known only to specific individuals, depending on the level of anonymity requested.

The main drawbacks with using office tools for investigations is there is no single source of truth. To understand what has happened, many systems need to be accessed and, adding to the problem, there is no single security framework. Spreadsheets rarely have direct links to the source data and can easily be manipulated over time. Don’t forget security is an ever increasing concern and using disparate solutions increases that risk across an organisation.

If you have stretched the limits of what is possible with office tools and are starting to experience the fundamental problems with them, Polonious can help you move on to our dedicated case and investigations management platform.

This blog will introduce you to 22 Free and Affordable Tools for Investigators.

This blog will introduce you to 22 Free and Affordable Tools for Investigators.

Polonious ensures a secure and consistent framework that controls the workflow, security, reporting and audit requirements necessary for every investigation.

Polonious ensures a secure and consistent framework that controls the workflow, security, reporting and audit requirements necessary for every investigation.

Book a Demo Now

Would you like to see how Polonious’ can help you with investigation reports?

6 Types of Evidence in Workplace Investigations

6 Types of Evidence in Workplace Investigations

The ability to gather and analyse different types of evidence is one of the most important competencies for anyone who conducts investigations. In Workplace Investigations, there are many different types of evidence that are available that can prove or disprove specific facts about the case. The evidence can help establish an issue or fact by the information they provide. There are many types of evidence that help the investigator make decisions during a case, even if they aren’t direct proof of an event or claim. 

The first rule is that evidence must be relevant to the investigation. If it is not directly related to the case it isn’t relevant evidence. That said, there are many types of evidence that, while not admissible in court, can be valuable to an investigator trying to reach a conclusion in a workplace investigation. And even some evidence that is not admissible on its own may be admissible in conjunction with other types of evidence.

This blog is designed to help you identify 6 Types of Evidences in Workplace Investigations you may encounter and how to use them.

This blog will be structured in the following:

  • Role of Evidence in Investigation Reports
  • 6 Types of Evidence in Workplace Investigations
  • Weighing the Evidence

Role of Evidence in Investigation Reports

Types of evidence contained in an investigation report may include:

  • Witness statements and/or transcripts of interviews
  • Physical evidence such as photographs of injuries or the debris of a broken item.
  • Documentary evidence such as incident reports or contemporaneous file notes.
  • Electronic evidence including emails, text messages and CCTV footage.
  • Expert reports such as medical reports
  • Other documentary support evidence such as rosters, timesheets, fuel cards, behaviour support plans, client profiles etc.

Additionally, in our previous blog, we have compiled five ways to garner more information for an investigation, and how the results will help you deliver a more comprehensive result.

Crucially, the evidence should be relevant and sufficient to support any findings. The more thorough the investigation and weighing of evidence, the better chance of defending an unfair dismissal claim in courts, such as the Fair Work Commission in Australia. 

Learn more about your duties and responsibilities as an investigator here.

Relevance of Evidence

Relevance is a fundamental consideration when it comes to assessing the evidence for any investigation, whether it is a minor matter or something more complex. For evidence to comply with the rules and to be admissible in court there must be a logical connection between the facts which are at issue and the documentation or statements used to determine them.

When obtaining and evaluating evidence, the investigator must be able to recognise what constitutes relevant evidence versus irrelevant evidence.  For example, evidence of someone’s character is irrelevant during a fact-finding investigation, though similar type behaviour or a tendency to behave in a certain way may be – provided it is sufficiently similar to the matters currently under investigation and can be assessed as relevant.

However, by planning ahead, assessing your risks, and thinking your investigation through from the start, you can avoid many of the common pitfalls that can derail an investigation. 

Key Points to Consider during Workplace Investigations

  • The more serious the allegation, the more probative the evidence should be to satisfy a conclusion on the balance of probabilities;
  • Consider all relevant evidence, and test any contradictory evidence;
  • When considering prior conduct, consider the prejudicial effect(degree to which a piece of evidence can prove the allegation it stands for) vs the probative value(extend that the evidence detracts from a court’s ability to determine what happened);
  • Where there is corroborating evidence, consider the possibility of collusion; always test the evidence;
  • When assessing credibility, identify your own biases, assess reliability and consistency and remember, everyone performs differently at interviews.

6 Types of Evidence in Workplace Investigations

Direct Evidence

Direct evidence is evidence of something that a witness has perceived for themselves through one or more of their five senses: something that they have seen, felt, heard, smelled or tasted. This could be the testimony of a witness who saw first-hand an incident of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Indirect/Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence is evidence that relies on an inference to connect it to a particular fact or issue or conclusion. For example, if surveillance camera footage of an office records a person removing cash from a safe and a reconciliation of money in the safe found that cash was missing, the footage would provide circumstantial evidence that could be used to infer that the person stole the money. Similarly, the length of skid marks on a road could be used to infer that a driver was speeding at the time of an accident. 

This type of evidence is used to infer something based on a series of facts separate from the fact the argument is trying to prove. It requires a deduction of facts from other facts that can be proven and, while not considered to be strong evidence, it can be relevant in a workplace investigation, which has a different burden of proof than a criminal investigation.

Hearsay Evidence

Hearsay evidence is evidence of something of which the witness does not have direct knowledge or experience but has been told about by some other person. For example, if Bob tells Tom that Mary stole the money, then Tom’s evidence would be considered to be hearsay and potentially unreliable unless it could be supported by circumstantial or direct evidence.

This type of evidence consists of statements made by witnesses who are not present. While hearsay evidence is not admissible in court, it can be relevant and valuable in a workplace investigation where the burden of proof is less robust than in court.

Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence is considered to be written forms of proof, such as letters or wills. It is any evidence of an original document or a copy or photographs, films or communications such as emails. Documentary evidence can also include other types of media, such as images, video or audio recordings, etc.

Physical Evidence

As would be expected, evidence that is in the form of a tangible object, such as a firearm, fingerprints, rope purportedly used to strangle someone, or tire casts from a crime scene, is considered to be physical evidence. Physical evidence is also known as “real” or “material” evidence. It can be presented in court as an exhibit of a physical object, captured in still or moving images, described in text, audio or video or referred to in documents.

Forensic Evidence

Forensic Evidence is scientific evidence, such as DNA, trace evidence, fingerprints or ballistics reports, and can provide proof to establish a person’s guilt or innocence. Forensic evidence is generally considered to be strong and reliable evidence and alongside helping to convict criminals, its role in exonerating the innocent has been well documented. The term “forensic” means “for the courts”. Its use in workplace investigations is generally limited to serious cases that may end up in court.

Weighing the Evidence

The term “weighing” is a term that means assessing the credibility and strength of a particular piece of evidence, such as the testimony given by a witness. When gathering evidence from witnesses, it is important to ensure that the evidence that they provide is comprehensive in terms of its probative value i.e. in terms of the extent to which it tends to prove a particular fact or issue. This will generally involve clarifying the finer details of what they say that they saw, when they saw it and clarifying any discrepancies in the evidence provided. The weight of evidence is based on the believability or persuasiveness of evidence. The probative value of evidence which tends to convince a person qf the truth of some proposition or fact does not necessarily turn on the number of witnesses called, but rather the persuasiveness of their testimony. For example, a witness may give uncorroborated but apparently honest and sincere testimony that commands belief, even though several witnesses of apparent respectability may contradict that evidence. The question for the decision-maker is not which side has more witnesses, but what testimony he/she believes. ·A witness’s “opinion” about a person or something will not generally be relevant to a workplace investigation unless the witness is an expert. 

How Polonious can Help

Gathering evidence can often be the most time-consuming part of the investigation. Everything you find out is potential evidence and it’s important to consider every piece of evidence you uncover, whether or not it fits in with your other evidence and impressions related to the case. However, HR teams and investigation teams must be aware that proper documentation and record keeping of incidents and investigations can make a significant difference in preventing risk and liabilities of the organisation. 

All physical evidence must be stored securely and logged. Digital evidence needs to be authenticated, captured, preserved and stored somewhere as well. The Polonious case management system allows investigators and HR teams to document evidence and important documents in a secure, organised and accessible manner. 

Polonious’ ISO27001 certified security ensures your evidence and case files are stored securely, while our detailed security configuration ensures you can keep employees fully anonymous, or known only to specific individuals, depending on the level of anonymity requested.

This blog is designed to help you identify 6 Types of Evidences in Workplace Investigations you may encounter and how to use them.

This blog is designed to help you identify 6 Types of Evidences in Workplace Investigations you may encounter and how to use them.

While hearsay evidence is not admissible in court, it can be relevant and valuable in a workplace investigation where the burden of proof is less robust than in court.

While hearsay evidence is not admissible in court, it can be relevant and valuable in a workplace investigation where the burden of proof is less robust than in court.

All physical evidence must be stored securely and logged. Digital evidence needs to be authenticated, captured, preserved and stored somewhere as well.

All physical evidence must be stored securely and logged. Digital evidence needs to be authenticated, captured, preserved and stored somewhere as well.

Book a Demo Now

Learn more about how Polonious can help you conduct fair and robust workplace investigations

8 Types of Workplace Harassment and 6 Ways to Prevent Them

8 Types of Workplace Harassment and 6 Ways to Prevent Them

There are many types of harassment in the workplace. Harassment may consist of unwelcome or offensive behaviour that contributes to a hostile work environment. These can come from a co-worker, supervisor, boss, vendor or client that can cause an employee to feel uncomfortable or threatened.

There are so many types of workplace harassment and so many interpretations that even the most diligent HR professional could miss the signs. With a more thorough understanding of workplace harassment, you will be able to detect, prevent and protect against such threats.

This blog will help you identify 8 Types of Workplace Harassment and 6 Ways to Prevent Them. 

The content of this blog will be structured in the following order:

  1. Defining Workplace Harassment
  2. 8 Types of Workplace Harassment
  3. 6 Ways to Workplaces can Prevent Harassment

Defining Workplace Harassment

United States

According to the U.S. Government, offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.

In the United States, petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.

United Kingdom

In the U.K., harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. According to the U.K. government, examples of bullying or harassing behaviour include:

  • spreading malicious rumours
  • unfair treatment
  • picking on or regularly undermining someone
  • denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities

Bullying and harassment can happen:

  • face-to-face
  • by letter
  • by email
  • by phone

Bullying itself is not against the law, but harassment is. This is when the unwanted behaviour is related to one of the following:

  • age
  • sex
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation

Australia

Similarly, in Australia, bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace are not appropriate and can be unlawful. 

Bullying happens at work when:

  • a person or group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards another worker or group of workers
  • the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Examples of bullying include:

    • behaving aggressively towards others
    • teasing or playing practical jokes
    • pressuring someone to behave inappropriately
    • excluding someone from work-related events
    • unreasonable work demands.

8 Types of Workplace Harassment

Discriminatory Harassment

According to the US Government, discriminatory harassment is verbal or physical conduct that demeans or shows hostility, or aversion, toward an individual because of his/her race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, or because of retaliation for engaging in protected activity and that:

  • Has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment; or
  • Has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance; or
  • Otherwise adversely affects an individual’s employment opportunities.

Harassing conduct includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • Epithets, slurs, jokes, negative stereotyping or threatening, intimidating or hostile acts that relate to a person’s race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age or disability.
  • Written or graphic material which demeans or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group because of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age or disability and is posted on walls, bulletin boards, e-mail or elsewhere on the FLETC facility.
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for decisions affecting an individual’s employment.

Some examples of discriminatory harassment include:

 

Racial Harassment

In the United States, Discrimination based on race is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Racial discrimination occurs when persons are treated differently than others who are similarly situated because they are members of a specific race (e.g., White, Black, Asian, etc.).Examples of employees who are similarly situated may be those working in the same position and grade, the same component, or under the same line of supervision.

A victim may experience racial harassment because of their race, skin color, ancestry, origin country or citizenship.

Even perceived attributes of a certain ethnicity (curly hair, accents, customs, beliefs or clothing) may be the cause. Racial harassment often looks like:

  • Racial slurs
  • Racial insults
  • Racial jokes
  • Degrading comments
  • Disgust
  • Intolerance of differences

 

Gender Harassment

Workplace gender discrimination comes in many different forms, but generally it means that an employee or a job applicant is treated differently or less favorably because of their sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.  Even though the words “sex” and “gender” have different meanings, laws against discrimination at work often use them interchangeably.

Examples of treatment that could be gender discrimination include:

  • not being hired, or being given a lower-paying position because of your gender identity or sexual orientation (for example, when an employer refuses to hire women, or only hires women for certain jobs)
  • being held to different or higher standards, or being evaluated more harshly, because of your gender identity, or because you don’t act or present yourself in a way that conforms to traditional ideas of femininity or masculinity. For example, if a worker who identifies as a woman receives a negative performance evaluation that criticizes her for being too “aggressive” (while men who behave the same way are praised for showing “leadership”), or if she wears her hair short and is told she needs to be more “presentable,” she may be experiencing discrimination based on gender stereotypes, which is a form of gender discrimination.
  • being paid less than a person of a different gender or sexual orientation who is similarly or less qualified than you, or who has similar (or fewer) job duties than you
  • being denied a promotion, pay raise, or training opportunity that is given to people of another gender identity or sexual orientation who are equally or less qualified or eligible as you
  • being written up or disciplined for something that other employees of a different gender do all the time but never get punished for
  • being insulted, called derogatory names or slurs because of your gender identity, or hearing hostile remarks about people of a certain gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • being intentionally or repeatedly called by a name or referred to as a different gender that you don’t identify with – such as when a transgender man is called by his dead name, or referred to as “Miss”
  • being subject to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature
  • being rejected for a job, forced out on leave, or given fewer assignments because you’re pregnant

 

Religious Harassment

Religious harassment is often interconnected with racial harassment but narrows in specifically on the victim’s religious beliefs.

An individual with a religion that differs from the “norm” of the company may face workplace harassment or intolerance in a variety of ways:

  • Intolerance toward religious holidays, traditions, and/or customs
  • Cruel religious jokes
  • Degrading stereotypical comments
  • Pressures to convert religions

 

Disability-Based Harassment

Disability-based harassment is a type of workplace harassment directed towards individuals who either:

  • Suffer from a disability themselves
  • Are acquainted with a disabled person or people
  • Use disability services (sick leave or workers’ comp)

A person with a disability may experience harassment in the form of:

  • Harmful teasing
  • Patronizing comments
  • Refusal to provide reasonable accommodations

Personal Harassment

Personal harassment is a form of workplace harassment that’s not based on one of the protected classes (such as race, gender or religion).

Personal harassment includes:

  • Inappropriate comments
  • Offensive jokes
  • Personal humiliation
  • Critical remarks
  • Ostracizing behaviors
  • Intimidation tactics
  • Or any other behavior that creates an intimidating and offensive work environment for the victim.

 

Physical Harassment

Physical harassment, also often called workplace violence, refers to a type of workplace harassment that involves physical attacks or threats. In extreme cases, physical harassment may be classified as assault.

Physical gestures such as playful shoving can blur the line between appropriate or not since it’s the person on the receiving end who decides whether the behavior makes them uncomfortable.

Common examples of physical harassment include:

  • Direct threats of intent to inflict harm
  • Physical attacks (hitting, shoving, kicking)
  • Threatening behavior (shaking fists angrily)
  • Destroying property to intimidate

 

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is when the perpetrator behaves in a romantic or sexual way towards the victim who is clearly uncomfortable and does not want attention of this nature. There is also something known as Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment where the superior makes a sexual request to the victim and if not taken up, a threat of something negative happening is made, such as losing their job or not getting a promotion.

Under the Fair Work Act, sexual harassment at work happens when a worker or group of workers:

  • makes an unwelcome sexual advance
  • makes an unwelcome request for sexual favours
  • engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to another worker.

To be sexual harassment, it has to be reasonable to expect that there is a possibility that the worker being sexually harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Some forms of sexual harassment can also be considered bullying if the behaviour is repeated or continuous. But unlike bullying, sexual harassment does not need to be continuous or repeated behaviour, it can be a one-off event. There is also no need to establish a risk to health and safety.

 

Psychological Harassment

Psychological harassment has a negative impact on a person’s psychological well-being. Victims of psychological harassment often feel put down and belittled on a personal level, a professional level or both. The damage to a victim’s psychological well-being often creates a domino effect, impacting their physical health, social life and work life. 

Psychological harassment in the workplace might look like:

  • Isolating or denying the victim’s presence
  • Belittling or trivializing the victim’s thoughts
  • Discrediting or spreading rumors about the victim
  • Opposing or challenging everything the victim says

Power Harassment

Power harassment involves any kind of behavior in which a superior takes advantage of his or her position in the workplace to cause co-workers physical pain or emotional distress. This can be due to superiority by means of relative work position, physical size, or otherwise.

The most common example is a boss mistreating an employee when he/she is in a bad mood. This can manifest as condescending reactions to employee questions, shifting the blame on employees for their own incompetency, and withholding critical information from an employee that he/she needs to know.

Other types of power harassment include:

  • Physical attacks including acts of force or violence
  • Psychological attacks including intimidation or verbal abuse
  • Segregation or any kind of ostracism
  • Excessive demands (e.g. assigning work that is impossible to perform or obviously unnecessary)
  • Demeaning demands (e.g. assigning work clearly below the employee’s capability or not assigning work at all)
  • Intrusion upon the individual, including the employee’s personal life

Cyber-bullying

Cyber bullying is often defined as a form of covert bullying and is carried out through the use of technology; for example, on the internet through emails, blogs and social networking sites, as well as via mobile phones. Some of the physical forms of bullying, such as transmission of rumours or gossip, crossover well into the Cyber-bullying category.

The problem with the use of online technologies is they are perfect camouflage for employing the hidden nature of covert and cyber bullying practices.  This makes them difficult for the organisation to prevent or stop and perhaps, as a consequence, employees are not informed that they have rights to prevent such online bullying incidents.

This is particularly concerning, given the potential legal consequences as well as the ongoing social and psychological issues that can result for both employees who have been bullied and those who engage in bullying behaviour. Many employees are unaware as to what constitutes Cyber-bullying. Examples of Cyber-bullying include:

  • Malicious or threatening emails or SMS communications to an individual’s phone or email address;
  • Electronic communications that feature offensive content such as explicit images or jokes/comments about ethnicity, religion or sexual preference;
  • Electronic communications aimed at correcting or providing feedback to an individual that are copied to a group with the effect of publicly shaming or demeaning the individual;
  • Malicious or threatening comments about an individual posted on blogs or social networking sites;
  • Sharing embarrassing, offensive or manipulated images or videos of an individual; and
  • Screensavers for desktop backgrounds featuring offensive content.

Retaliation

Retaliation occurs when an employer punishes an employee for engaging in legally protected activity. Retaliation can include any negative job action, such as demotion, discipline, firing, salary reduction, or job or shift reassignment. But retaliation can also be more subtle.

6 Ways Workplaces can Prevent Harassment

Set the Standard of Workplace Behavior

A workplace can set and enforce clear standards of behaviour through a code of conduct or a workplace policy that outlines what is and is not appropriate behaviour and what action will be taken to deal with unacceptable behaviour. It can apply to all behaviours that occur in connection with work, even if they occur outside normal working hours. The standards of behaviour should also include a reference to reasonable management action.

The advantage of this approach is that unreasonable behaviours can be addressed before they escalate into workplace bullying. Implement a workplace bullying policy A policy designed to prevent workplace bullying may be a stand-alone policy or incorporated into a broader code of conduct or work health and safety policy. The policy should be set out in writing, be developed in consultation with workers and should include:

  • a statement that the organisation is committed to preventing workplace bullying as part of providing a safe and healthy work environment
  • the definition of workplace bullying (as described in this guide)
  • the standard of behaviour expected from workers and others in the workplace
  • a statement, where relevant, that the policy extends to communication through email, text messaging and social media • the process for reporting and responding to incidents of unreasonable behaviour
  • the process for managing reports of workplace bullying, including vexatious reports, and • the consequences of not complying with the policy. An example of a workplace bullying policy is at Appendix A. Implementing a policy in a small business may simply involve the business owner advising workers and reminding them when necessary that bullying behaviour is not tolerated in the workplace, what to do if it does occur and what action will be taken. To be effective, the policy should be easily accessible and consistently applied. It should be communicated and promoted through notice boards, the intranet, team meetings and by managers discussing the policy with their staff. 

Develop productive and respectful workplace relationships

Good management practices and effective communication are important in creating a workplace environment that discourages workplace bullying. Examples include:

  • promote positive leadership styles by providing training for managers and supervisors
  • mentor and support new and poor performing managers and workers
  • facilitate teamwork, consultation and cooperation
  • ensure that reasonable management actions are clearly defined, articulated and understood by workers and supervisors
  • ensure supervisors act in a timely manner on unreasonable behaviour they see or become aware of

Where there is a risk of workplace bullying by other people, for example clients, the following control measures may be considered:

  • communicate the expected standard of behaviour through a code of conduct or in contracts and agreements
  • empower workers to refuse or suspend service if other people fail to comply with the expected standard of behaviour
  • provide support to workers who are exposed to unreasonable behaviour
  • implement control measures to eliminate or minimise the risk of workplace violence

Design safe systems of work

The following work design control measures may reduce the risk of workplace bullying:

  • clearly define jobs and seek regular feedback from workers about their role and responsibilities
  • provide workers with the resources, information and training they need to carry out their tasks safely and effectively
  • review and monitor workloads and staffing levels to reduce excessive working hours
  • provide access to support mechanisms, such as employee assistance programs, particularly during busy and stressful work periods
  • provide effective communication throughout workplace change, including restructuring or downsizing.

Implement reporting and response procedures

Workplace bullying behaviours should not be tolerated and early reporting of these behaviours should be encouraged. If a worker considers they are being bullied they will be more likely to report it if they know there is a transparent reporting process in place and that it will be followed as soon as a report is received. Reporting can be encouraged by:

  • making it clear that victimisation of those who make reports will not be tolerated
  • ensuring consistent, effective and timely responses to reports
  • being transparent about dealing with workplace bullying by regularly providing information on the number of reports made, how they were resolved and what actions were taken. It is important for those who experience or witness workplace bullying to know who they can talk to in the business, that a report will be taken seriously, and that confidentiality will be maintained. Implementing effective response procedures should ensure that reports of workplace bullying are dealt with in a consistent and reasonable way.

    These procedures should be used each time a report of bullying is made. They should also provide flexibility to fit the different circumstances of each report, and be designed to suit the size and structure of the organisation.

    An effective procedure should:

  • be in plain English and if necessary available in other languages
  • outline how issues will be dealt with when a report of workplace bullying is made or received including broad principles to ensure the process is objective, fair and transparent.
  • clearly state the roles of individuals such as managers and supervisors, and • identify external avenues available to workers where reports of workplace bullying have been unable to be resolved internally. A procedure must be developed in consultation with workers and health and safety representatives (if any).

Provide training and information

Training is a significant factor in preventing and managing workplace bullying, particularly to enable early intervention in workplace conflict before it potentially escalates into bullying. Workers including managers and supervisors should be aware of their roles in relation to preventing and responding to workplace bullying and have the appropriate skills to take action where necessary. Training Induction training for workers should include information on:

  • the standards of behaviour expected in the workplace including the use of social media if relevant
  • how workplace bullying should be reported and how such reports are managed
  • where to go internally and externally for more information and assistance.

Training for workers can be provided in various ways including through online courses, podcasts and face-to-face training.

A training program should cover:

  • awareness of the impact certain behaviours can have on others
  • the work health and safety duties and responsibilities relating to workplace bullying
  • measures used to prevent workplace bullying from occurring
  • how individuals can respond to workplace bullying
  • how to report workplace bullying
  • how workplace bullying reports will be responded to including timeframes. 

Managers and supervisors need the skills to be able to identify psychological hazards and put the right control measures in place. They should be trained in how to prevent and respond to workplace bullying, and in skills that will help develop productive and respectful workplace relationships, for example training that covers:

  • communicating effectively and engaging workers in decision-making
  • managing difficult conversations and providing constructive feedback both formally and informally
  • conflict management
  • effectively managing workloads and performance
  • diversity and tolerance. 

Training should be tailored to meet the needs of workers and suit the nature of the workplace and the workforce, for example levels of literacy. Providing workers with information Information about workplace bullying can be given to workers in a number of ways including:

talking directly with workers by holding team meetings, tool box talks or speaking one-on-one with them at the beginning of the work day

  • handing out company newsletters or pamphlets(including information sheets in payslips, displaying posters around the workplace, through email messages or intranet announcements)

Implement Issue Specific Prevention Measures

Each form of workplace harassment requires different prevention measures. Therefore, it is important to educate yourself on different forms of harassment. 

Preventing Sexual Harassment

For instance, workplaces can help prevent sexual harassment by:

  • creating a safe physical and online working environment
  • providing information, instruction, training and support about the importance of preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace
  • addressing unwanted or offensive behaviour early
  • encouraging reporting of sexual harassment and having effective complaints procedures.

Employees should also be aware that if they believe sexual harassment has happened (or is happening) at the workplace, they can talk to:

  • a supervisor or manager
  • a health and safety representative
  • the human resources department
  • a union
  • a lawyer

However, many employees may refuse to report due to the sensitive nature of the topic and/or fear of retaliation. As such, employers should set up effective whistleblowing mechanisms. Furthermore, read our comprehensive guide on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace to learn interview tips and key documents specific to sexual harassment.

Preventing Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is also another common form of workplace harassment. Although Cyberbullying shares many similarities with more traditional methods of bullying, it has the potential to be more aggressive and escalate a lot faster. The anonymity, large audience, range of attack methods, lack of face-to-face communication and ability to contact the victim 24 hours a day contribute to the severity of Cyberbullying.

It is important that employers recognise that addressing Cyber-bullying is essential for creating a safe and productive working environment. In general, the significance of Cyberbullying is underestimated and consequently is not prioritised as an issue requiring attention.

Many employers don’t take it seriously, especially when the technology being used is poorly understood. Issues that appear to be trivial or based on a personal gripe can have a devastating impact in the workplace. Employers and Employees who recognise this and actively seek to prevent it will be much better placed to avoid the negative consequences of Cyberbullying incidents.

Bullying and Cyber-bullying can seriously affect morale, cause undue fear and stress, emotional exhaustion and serious health and psychological issues. This can result in lost productivity, increase in staff absence and difficulty retaining staff in an unhealthy work environment. Employees and employers have a Duty of Care towards each other with respect to sensitive personal and political issues, especially when technology like email, instant messaging and social networking is involved.

The best way to prevent Cyber-bullying is through a combination of policy and education. Given there is no common or uniform legal definition of Cyber-Bullying then the first place to start is to consider that such behavior is a subset of harassment and bullying.

 

How Polonious can Help

Workplace harassment can emerge in many different forms. While clearly communicated policies and standards of behaviour can help ensure people do the right thing, it’s important to ensure there is an accessible complaints/reporting mechanism and fair investigation process when they do. This will not only ensure corrective action is taken, but the visibility of such action will discourage other misconduct as well as make complainants more willing to speak up. While this may seem like a bad thing to some, bringing issues into the light ensures they’re dealt with rather than rotting away at your corporate culture.

It is important to have a workplace harassment policy, whether as a standalone policy, or as part of a broader HR policy.

It is important to have a workplace harassment policy, whether as a standalone policy, or as part of a broader HR policy.

Whistleblower hotlines are a key asset in preventing internal fraud

Whistleblower hotlines ensure you can deal with problems quickly before they become concerns for regulators.

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Learn more about how Polonious can help you investigate and prevent workplace harassment and ultimately foster a positive workplace environment.

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