2. Receiving a Report
The moment an organization receives such a report is a critical juncture at which the organization’s actions can make the difference between a fairly resolved matter and a highly contested one.
Organizations must take a number of steps to initiate the response process, promote safety, and ensure that all involved parties are treated fairly and empathically. This process is known as case handling. Case handling involves four steps: Intake, Action Planning, Investigation, and Decision Making.
The intake, or taking in of a report, is the initial stage of the case-handling process when a complainant first brings forward a concern through any of the designated channels identified by the organization. It is an opportunity for the individual receiving the report to preliminarily understand the concern in order for the organization to determine an appropriate course of immediate action. This first contact is not the time to pursue a detailed fact finding of the incident, rather, it is a time to listen. No matter the circumstance, the individual making a report should be fully heard, respected, and affirmed for coming forward.
The Sample Intake Form in the Supporting Resources portion of this section outlines a way to document the intake conversation with the person receiving the initial report (e.g., a supervisor or manager). If an individual has previously submitted a Report Form, the individual conducting the intake will not repeat those questions. Instead, the intake meeting should be used to determine if the individual has any additional information they wish to add and to follow up with specific questions (i.e., information missing from the Intake Form or unclear on the Report Form).
The person who conducted the intake then meets with whomever the organization designates to manage the complaint process and begins the second step in the case handling process: Action Planning. This two-step process (Intake followed by Action Planning) creates a robust record of the organization’s effort to take prompt, appropriate action and allows consultation and collaboration in planning.
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When an employee makes an initial report, the most important thing the person receiving the report can do is to listen and demonstrate care and understanding. It is far less important to capture or elicit details at this point than to ensure the person raising the issue that they are being heard and understood. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that while reports should always be taken at face value, information that arises later in the process may add new dimensions to events. You should seek to avoid statements that validate events that have not been investigated to maintain neutrality in the process. See Tips for Receiving a Report for more detailed guidance.
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When it comes to organizational response to reports of harassment or hostile or abusive conduct, there can be no blanket assurance of confidentiality. It is important to communicate clearly with everyone involved in making or receiving a report how information will be used and shared. There is limited confidentiality available in the reporting and investigative process.
Your Policy and practice should articulate that, while every effort will be made to protect individual privacy, information will be shared as needed to investigate and resolve the matter being reported. An employee requesting anonymity in a report cannot be guaranteed that will be the case. However, organizations should state that information will be shared only on a “need to know” basis. For more on this topic, see Organizational Communications in Action Planning.
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After receiving a Report Form or completing an Intake Form, you’ll need to retain these forms, and any supporting documents (e.g., notes) in your organizational files. There are three fundamental types of files relevant to respectful workplace and complaint handling, with different guidelines regarding their storage and retention.
Personnel files usually contain documents that the employee has already reviewed and so they are familiar with their content. This includes documents such as job applications, performance evaluations, letters of recognition, training records, and forms that relate to transfers and promotion. It would also include signed acknowledgements, such as affirmations that they have reviewed the employee handbook or respectful workplace policy (see Keilim’s Living Your Policy module for more information on affirmations). Disciplinary communications, such as letters of reprimand also will be in a personnel file. While intake and investigatory records live in separate files, disciplinary actions resulting from an investigation are stored in the personnel file
Supervisory files document employee behavior and performance observations. These are files kept in a secure location and are used to facilitate the performance management and/or employee coaching process. This is a transitory file that may include notes of conversations, coaching, customer or client kudos, status reports, and milestones. Subject matter might include issues that have been raised regarding employee conduct and relationships that do not rise to the level of potential policy violations, such as conflicts with colleagues over work-related issues. These files should be consulted in preparation for the employee’s periodic performance review. Relevant information should be included in the performance review, and the remainder, purged.
All files created or collected in the course of case handling, which includes the Intake, Action Planning, Investigation, and Decision Making phases, should be retained in the case-handling files and stored indefinitely. Such storage is necessary to memorialize the actions your organization took in responding to a report and your reasons for doing so, including in cases where a determination was made not to proceed with an investigation. Documents or digital files stored here include/; Incident Report Forms, Intake Forms, Action Planning Forms, all material generated during an investigation, a copy of the investigative report, evidence logs, notes, and correspondence relevant to the investigation, and Post Investigative Decision-making Form.
The following supporting documents can be tailored to your organization’s unique needs.