Sexual harassment, mobbing and discrimination need forensic investigation

in Advisory, 26.06.2014

Fraud is the type of misconduct that is most frequently investigated by our Forensic team. However, besides fraud, there are a number of other forms of misconduct that are also important to detect and respond to. These are more the ‘behavioral’ kinds of misconduct like mobbing, discrimination and sexual harassment. A closer look at our latest research regarding fraud and ethics at the workplace shows, that discrimination against employees has been observed by more than 22% of the respondents, while (sexual) harassment has been observed by almost 16%. Actually, these are very high and alarming numbers! Particularly as 5.2% of participants actually state that they have committed acts of discrimination and 2.3% claim to have committed sexual harassment. In reality, the number is probably even higher.


Ethics Table 1


When an accusation of discrimination, mobbing or sexual harassment is made, whether via the whistle blower hotline, the company’s Ombudsperson or directly to HR, it is important that the organization starts an independent and objective investigation. An investigation into these types of “behavioral” misconduct is also a form of forensic investigation. The goal of the investigation is to distinguish between opinions and accusations and relevant facts.

Four important elements of a Behavioral Investigation

  1. Knowledge of rules and regulations
    When performing a behavioral forensic investigation, it is essential to know the relevant and applicable legislation in force but also the organization’s internal standards (e.g. Code of Conduct, Compliance standards). Each subject matter is different and requires an individual investigative strategy. The norms that are applicable need to be known before engaging in actual investigation activities such as conducting interviews or document reviews.
  2. Objective fact finding
    With behavioral incidents it is especially vital to base the conclusions on hard facts such as available data and documentation relevant to the investigation. This often involves email searches extracted from systems or other forms of communications by using innovative data-analysis techniques. It’s important to take immediate steps to “freeze the scene” by protecting evidence such as emails or information on mobile devices.
  3. Broader behavioral view
    Information gathered by conducting interviews is particularly important to provide a broader behavioral view. Through the interviews, the ‘context’ of the misconduct can be reproduced. It is therefore strongly recommended to include behavioral experts like a psychologist in the investigation team.
  4. Concrete reporting
    As accusations of behavioral misconduct easily lead to contradictory statements between the accused and the victim, it is absolutely vital that the report is factual and objective. The reporting process should strictly apply the adversarial principle. This means, that the relevant person(s) will be given the opportunity to comment on the accuracy and/or completeness of any findings relating to individual conduct and the resulting draft conclusions before reporting final conclusions to management.

The most common pitfall in behavioral investigations is distinguishing between facts and individual opinions, feelings and situations, etc.. The dilemma situation below shows just how hard this can be.

People often tell derogatory jokes during our coffee break. Mark, one of my colleagues, is particularly good at this. He is also on very friendly terms with our female colleagues. He often calls them “honey” or “baby.” One of my female colleagues who recently joined our group finds him and his behavior extremely irritating. What do I do?


Please also vote on your choice on our Dilemma App!

Further information:

1 Comment

  1. Bram Van der Meer

    Very interesting research findings and consistent with what I see in my practice. Thank you for this contribution. The costs and consequences of misconduct on the workplace and unwanted behaviour is still underestimated by companies.Much research is needed. I appreciate that the topic of ‘objective fact finding’ is mentioned – crucial and often undervalued.

    B.B. Van der Meer
    Director, ‘Van der Meer Investigative Psychologists’
    Executive Board Member, Association of European Threat Assessment Professionals

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