Dealing with bias in a workplace investigation
What are you biased about? Everyone has at least one thing they are partial to, if not more.
Before a workplace investigation can happen, an investigator needs to ask themselves what their bias is to question themselves appropriately if they can balance it. If not, it might be best if someone else was carrying out the investigation.
The subject of the investigation has the right to know they are the investigator, and the person conducting the review has an open mind, willing to consider every possible outcome.
A bias stops someone from being neutral and objective because you look at something or someone favourably.
For example, your long-time friend is accused of stealing office supplies, and you are usually the one who handles the investigation. In this case, it’s probably best for you to defer it to someone else to investigate to ensure it is done correctly.
To make it easy, there are three questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are biased:
- Can I be fair?
- Am I open to the possibility that different outcomes happened?
- Am I, at the outset of the investigation, willing to find in favour of either the complainant or the subject?
The types of bias
There are three different types of bias:
In many investigations, the subject will allege that an investigator is biased; this is considered alleged bias. However, just because someone says there is one doesn’t mean it exists.
If a complaint or concern is levelled, a few things should be done.
First off, if the investigator’s task was assigned to you, go to the person who gave it and ask them to review the situation and determine if there is, in fact, a bias.
Every investigation’s most important guiding principles are based on evidence and policy.
So how do you make a fair judgement about whether an investigator is biased?
- The investigator has a financial or material interest in the investigation
- There is an association or prior involvement between the investigator and someone involved in the investigation
- The investigator has some prior involvement in the process or the situation that gave rise to the complaint
- There is some concern about the attitude or conduct of the investigation
There have been countless incidents where people review an incident involving someone they have worked with for years. If there is any reasonable doubt that there will be a bias, the person should be removed from the investigation.
What is unconscious bias?
As the name suggests, this is a bias that we do not consciously know about.
A great example of this is that we tend to like, believe, and are attracted to people with similar outlooks and beliefs. (Eg. An extreme extrovert may not identify with an extreme introvert and may find them less credible.)
So how do you deal with this if you are not consciously aware of them?
Start by referring to some of the earlier points made in this blog. Make sure all of your decisions are guided by supporting evidence, not how you feel about them. Being empathetic and understanding is a great tool to ensure you are coming to the right decision at the end of the day.
For a complete list of unconscious biases and what they mean, this is a great resource. It is important to remember that unconscious bias may not always present itself as coherent thoughts, so taking the steps outlined above will help pave the way to an unbiased decision.
Determining if you are biased starts long before an investigation starts and continues until the end. There can be no room for error on this front; everyone is entitled to a fair workplace investigation.
If you believe you are biased and there is no way to balance, you should remove yourself as the investigator.