Ask for Timelines and Follow-up On Internal Investigations
While members of management have a legitimate need for some breathing room in order to figure out what's going on, it's up to you to make sure that any delays are not being used as a method to stop you from vindicating your rights.
Plain and simple...many employers will intentionally drag out informal and formal investigations because they (1) hope the employee will just let the issue drop; (2) are trying to determine if they are in legal or financial trouble; (3) are looking to lay the ground work for a cover-up or to set up some sort of pretext for the events that have transpired; or (4) they are trying to determine if there is a way to set up the employee for future employment actions as a way to retaliate against them for filing an informal or formal complaint or to run them out of the company.
Once you've complained of mistreatment, which may violate Federal statutes prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, it's up to you to stay on top of the investigatory process taking place at work. It's important that you ask questions and follow-up with everyone involved--in writing. Make it a habit to drop someone a quick email asking for an update on a formal or informal investigation. Avoid talking on the phone. If you do, follow up phone conversations with an email stating what was discussed, what has been promised, and indicating any next steps that were agreed to on the call.
If you have complained of abuse and someone says they have to check into it--formally--you should ask questions about the timing of the investigation and about the scope of the investigation:
(1) How long do you think your investigation will take?
(2) Who will you be speaking to? What will you be asking?
(3) Can I recommend you speak to x, y, and z? (Give names of witnesses, etc.)
(4) Can I submit evidence?
(5) Who else is involved in the investigation or any interviews?
(6) Will the findings of your investigation be submitted in writing? If not, request the result in writing. If you are given verbal results, send an email indicating what you were told.
(7) Am I able to appeal the process?
(8) How does the appeal process work? What is the timing for an appeal?
Do not allow someone to claim that they can't indicate the timing for any portion of the investigation. Everyone at work likes to use the words "estimate" and "guesstimate." Ask for someone to make an educated guess and follow-up with them as soon as you've reached that deadline. If you don't hear anything, send an email and ask what's up!
If you've complained informally and there is an informal inquiry, you should still ask how long the informal inquiry will take and what process will be used. If you are told that nothing improper was found during a review conducted within your department, take your concerns to HR or someone higher up in management. FYI, if you report potential abuse to ANYONE with authority at your company, they are legally required NOT to sit on the information. They must report it to someone with authority to check into the situation, such as another manager or executive overseeing your group/unit.
Whether your complaint is informal or formal, you have to stay on top of things, so that the company knows you are serious and so you are not subjected to extensive delays that could prevent you from filing a complaint with an external agency, such as the EEOC or the Office of Human Rights. You may have 180 days to file a complaint--from the time of the first incident. Employers know this and may work to convince you that they are investigating, but they may really be using the sytem against you!
If your employer is making delays that could prevent you from filing an external complaint, go ahead and file the complaint. You've engaged with your employer in good faith and did not receive any results in a timely fashion. You must do whatever you have to do vindicate your rights. You can't let your employer's tactics prevent you from taking action to protect your rights and to search for the truth as to whether or not Federal statutes were violated.
It's important that you always ask about the timing of internal investigations and appeals. And, you should always find out the deadlines for filing a complaint with external agencies in your area.