As experienced investigators know, an investigation into allegations of harassment, discrimination or other misconduct may lead to a so-called “he said/she said” scenario, possibly leaving the investigator in a quandary as to the investigation’s outcome. This situation may indeed lead to a determination that the allegations are unsubstantiated. However, an investigator should not shy away from making credibility determinations when possible, even when it is one person’s word against another.
Here are a few practical pointers in assessing witness credibility:
a. Does the witness have a history of being untruthful? b. Does the witness have a motive to be untruthful or less than candid and forthcoming?
c. Is the witness’s story plausible?
d. Does the witness have a stake in the outcome of the investigation, e.g., a personal relationship with the victim or the accused which could create a
e. Can the witness’s story be corroborated by other witnesses or evidence, e.g., documents, photographs, recordings, etc.?
f. Has the accused employee engaged in similar behavior in the past, e.g., is it consistent with prior behavior? The investigator, however, must be careful not to pre-judge guilt before conducting a thorough investigation.
g. Does the witness “appear” credible? Albeit somewhat subjective, it is proper to assess a witness’s demeanor, e.g., body language, eye contact, nervous, defensive, shocked, relaxed, evasive, argumentative, etc.
In the end, you may be unable to reconcile conflicting information and, therefore, conclude that the allegations are unsubstantiated. However, an investigator should consider the above factors, among others, and try to make credibility judgments when possible. A thorough investigation requires it.