HR Management & Compliance

Hearsay May Be Investigator’s Important Tool

In yesterday’s Advisor, attorney Allison West, SPHR, briefed us on the use of hearsay evidence in HR investigations. Today, the rest of her reasons you may want to consider such evidence.

West, a respected and popular speaker on HR topics, is principal of Employment Practices Specialists in Pacifica, California. She serves on the Board of the Association of Workplace Investigators (www.aowi.org).

Here’s what she recommends about hearsay in HR investigations:

[Go here for the first reason for considering hearsay]

Second, hearsay statements or evidence can lead us to relevant evidence.

Investigators must be greedy and accepting of information in whatever form and from whomever is willing to share.  Whether information is hearsay is, simply put, irrelevant when it comes to gathering the information.  Too often, investigators (and management) make decisions based on whether the information obtained was accurate or witnessed first-hand.  Simply because Wally did not witness what happened does not mean nothing happened to Karen.  Wally mentioned someone named Susan who might have additional information, and he might also provide a timeline of Karen’s activities after the incident and other facts. 

The key determination for accepting evidence is whether the information is relevant.  Relevant evidence is what we are searching for in our quest to figure out what happened.  Relevant evidence will often lead us to other relevant evidence or help us to determine that something is, in fact, irrelevant.  Whether the information is accurate is determined during the course of the investigation and, significantly, when making findings and determinations about the veracity and credibility of the witness and his or her testimony.

Additionally, hearsay evidence can also be corroborative.  If several witnesses recount the same story, it can mean each witness heard a similar account, which can assist in determining relevancy, accuracy, and credibility.  Conversely, the possibility exists that the witnesses may be fabricating their story or have their own agenda regarding the facts and outcome of the investigation.


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Third, ignoring hearsay evidence puts the investigator’s credibility at risk.

At the end of the investigation, an investigator must be able to justify decisions made along the way regarding investigation strategy, witnesses interviewed, evidence gathered, and ultimately, the investigation findings.  Ignoring evidence before determining its accuracy and relevance, or the credibility of the witness, can show bias of the investigator.  Once bias is detected, the entire investigation becomes suspect.  If the investigator above discounted Wally’s testimony before making further inquiries because the testimony was hearsay, a wealth of information may not have been obtained, corroboration might have been overlooked, or other evidence might be missed.

Bottom line, investigators should evaluate all evidence, follow relevant leads, and make credibility determinations at the end of the investigation … and hearsay? Fahgettaboudit!

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