What Not to Say During an HR Investigation

By Douglas Lipsky

Navigating HR investigations requires more than honesty; it demands strategic thinking and a keen awareness of your words’ impact. These inquiries, pivotal in resolving workplace disputes, hinge significantly on the statements made by those involved. 

What you say and how you say it can profoundly influence the investigation’s outcome, potentially affecting your career and workplace dynamics. Preparing and carefully considering your answers is essential. Crafting truthful yet measured responses can help steer the investigation toward a fair resolution.

Understanding HR Investigations

HR investigations address complaints and allegations within the workplace, ranging from harassment and discrimination to violations of company policies. These inquiries are initiated to gather facts, assess the validity of claims, and determine if any misconduct occurred. 

The ultimate goal is to ensure a safe, fair, and legally compliant workplace environment. By conducting these investigations, organizations aim to resolve internal issues efficiently and equitably, prevent potential legal repercussions, and foster a culture of transparency and accountability.

The intricacies of HR investigations often entail interviews with the complainant, the accused, and any witnesses, alongside a review of relevant documents and evidence. It’s a process that demands impartiality and confidentiality to protect the interests of all parties involved. 

Understanding the gravity and purpose of these investigations highlights the importance of navigating them with care. Your statements during an HR inquiry can significantly sway its direction and outcome, making it crucial to communicate thoughtfully and accurately.

Phrases to Avoid and Why

In the tense atmosphere of an HR investigation, the words you choose can either pave the way to clarity or further complicate the issue. Specific phrases, if uttered, can cast doubt on your credibility, escalate conflicts, or even inadvertently incriminate you. 

To navigate these waters safely, here are key phrases to steer clear of:

  • “I’m not sure, but…” Speculating or making assumptions can muddle the facts, leading to misunderstandings. Stick to what you know.
  • “It’s always been done this way”: This defense can imply resistance to change or justify inappropriate behavior based on tradition, which doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
  • “No comment”: While it might seem like a safe choice, refusing to answer questions can appear evasive, casting you in a suspicious light.
  • “I don’t remember exactly”: Frequent use of this phrase can be interpreted as an attempt to avoid giving a direct answer. If you don’t recall, it’s better to say so once and offer to provide information later if it comes back to you.
  • “That’s just how they are “: Attempting to excuse someone’s behavior as part of their personality can undermine the seriousness of the investigation.

Navigating an HR investigation requires a balance between honesty and caution. By avoiding these phrases, you help ensure that your input aids in achieving a fair and accurate conclusion. Remember, the goal is to contribute to resolving the issue at hand, not to complicate the investigation further with poorly chosen words.

How to Communicate Effectively

Effective communication during an HR investigation ensures your perspective is understood and accurately represented. Here are essential tips to communicate effectively:

  • Stick to the Facts: Focus on providing clear, factual information about what you witnessed or experienced without embellishing details or making assumptions.
  • Pause Before Responding: Collecting your thoughts before answering a question is okay. This pause allows you to consider your response carefully, ensuring it’s both accurate and considered.
  • Express a Willingness to Cooperate: Demonstrate your commitment to resolving the issue by being open and cooperative. A positive attitude toward the investigation process can contribute significantly to its efficiency and fairness.

Effective communication requires being clear, concise, and cooperative. It helps the investigation proceed smoothly and ensures your input is valued and understood. This approach aids in resolving the matter while maintaining the integrity of the process and your professional reputation.

Seeking Legal Advice 

Navigating an HR investigation can be daunting, and protecting your rights and interests is crucial throughout the process. Seeking legal advice from an experienced employment lawyer can provide the guidance and support you need. 

At Lipsky Lowe, we help individuals understand their legal standing and navigate complex workplace issues. Don’t go through it alone—contact us for a consultation and ensure your voice is heard clearly and effectively. Let’s tackle this together.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.