In recent years, the concept of unconscious (or implicit) bias in the workplace – whether in recruitment practices, retention, or workplace investigations, has come into sharper focus. As a species that utilizes patterns as a means of interpreting the world around us, we are all susceptible to some level of bias.

When it comes to workplace investigations, bias (or the appearance of bias) creates a serious risk for an organization attempting to create a safe and harassment-free workplace. Businesses have a duty to treat all employees equitably, and when a complaint is made, to investigate promptly, thoroughly and without prejudice.

Let’s take a look at how implicit bias may influence or impact workplace investigations, and how engaging a third-party investigator may be the best option to mitigate risks of both perceived and real bias.

What is Implicit Bias?

An implicit bias is any unconsciously-held set of associations about a social group. Implicit biases can result in the attribution of particular qualities to all individuals from that group, also known as stereotyping. Implicit biases are the product of learned associations and social conditioning. At times, we process information and even take action based on our implicit bias, even when these are contrary to our conscious or declared beliefs.

When it comes to an internal workplace investigation, previous experiences or intimate knowledge of a complainant (i.e. their personality, professional history, whether they have been a high performer, considered trustworthy, etc.) can result in the investigator making decisions based on both implicit assumptions and outright explicit bias, which may greatly affect the outcome of the investigation.

If you select an internal party to conduct an investigation, not only do you risk the investigator bringing forward and relying on preconceived notions, you also may unintentionally sow seeds of mistrust and doubt among the participants, thereby possibly tainting the investigation process and decreasing the likelihood of reaching findings based on evidence, accepted standards and reasonableness.

How an External Investigator Can Help 

Selecting the right investigator is essential to conducting a proper workplace investigation free from perceived and real bias. Internal investigators may have great difficulty ignoring information they have about the situation and the parties. A third-party investigator, however, has the advantage of being able to offer not only knowledge and investigative expertise, but very importantly, is in a position to provide a much more unbiased, neutral perspective which is invaluable to the legitimacy of an investigation.

Third-party investigators are trained to rely on process and evidence. A good third-party investigator is unencumbered by any ‘baggage’ and will avoid gathering irrelevant information about the parties involved in a complaint, thereby reducing the opportunity for their assessment to be clouded by bias or any preconceived notions of the individuals involved.

Ultimately, the risks of allowing bias to creep into a workplace investigation can result in irreparable harm, most importantly a loss of trust among employees but also potential damage to the organization’s reputation, and legal or financial liabilities. Relying on external support from a third-party investigator is the safest and smartest way a company can be assured its workplace investigations are completed with respect and, as much as possible, are free from bias.

If your business is looking for the support of a knowledgeable third-party investigator, the expert team at Cenera have decades of experience in conducting thorough, timely and unbiased workplace investigations. 

Reach out to us today to learn more.

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