MF Writes: I have received a number of anonymous reports of bullying in the office. As an employer, should I investigate cases of bullying and harassment in the workplace based on anonymous sources?
Upon receiving a bullying or harassment allegations you should always conduct a brief initial investigation to decide whether there is an issue to investigate further. Regardless if a complaint is made anonymously or not it should be taken into consideration when doing this initial investigation. An anonymous complaint does not necessarily mean that it is malicious or that it lacks merit, sometimes the employee making it may feel intimidated or at risk from the alleged bully. If you decide that there is a case to investigate then, you should proceed following your grievance or harassment procedure as you normally would.
Usually, the first step should be talking to the person who raised the issue to clarify the details of the complaint and get more background information if the issue is on-going, unfortunately an anonymous complaint does not allow you to do that. However, if an employee approaches you with their complaint, but asks to remain anonymous, you should still hold this initial meeting with them, however you should not promise them that you will be able to keep their identity a secret as you may be under an obligation to reveal it during the course of the investigation or thereafter if disciplinary action is necessary.
As part of the investigation, you should speak to all parties involved, including the person who the allegation is made against. You should hold a separate investigatory meeting with the alleged perpetrator and any witnesses involved. Make sure that you collect evidence at every stage of your investigation. Keep minutes from any investigatory meetings and ask the employee to sign them. If a witnesses wants to remain anonymous, you should still keep evidence of their account but remove any information from all records which may be used to identify them.
In normal complaints of bullying, if you find that the evidence supports the allegation it may be best to offer mediation to the parties. In anonymous complaints this may not seem like an option, however may have to reveal the complainant’s identity even if they wish to remain anonymous in order to allow mediation to take place and resolve the issues.