Investigations in the workplace are fact-finding exercises that collect all pertinent information and evidence about an alleged offense. Taking action on a workplace disciplinary matter or grievance without a thorough investigation can expose the organization to the risk of legal action.
Investigations in the workplace are gaining prominence in modern workplaces. Employers have also recognized the benefits of conducting investigations before imposing discipline to identify problems with workplace morale and highlight areas for improvement in their workplace culture. While the facts and circumstances of each investigation will be unique, there are general guidelines that you should follow to mitigate risk and preserve positive workplace relations. This guide to workplace investigations describes the procedure that employers can follow when conducting workplace investigations.
Typically, an employee complaint or anonymous allegation of misconduct in the workplace will initiate an investigation. For instance, a workplace investigation may be initiated when an employee reports a potential violation of employment law to a human resources (HR) professional.
We may also conduct a workplace investigation if an employee is accused of stealing company property or engaging in other forms of misconduct. Lastly, we may initiate an investigation in response to a claim that an employee is not adhering to company policy.
Once you have received a complaint, run a successful workplace investigation by following the below steps:
1. Choose Whether Or Not To Investigate
When your business receives a complaint from any source, you must take the report seriously and act swiftly. Depending on the allegation’s nature, regulations may govern how your organization handles complaints. Some allegations require immediate action because they can tarnish your organization’s reputation. Therefore, you should determine if a report requires an investigation.
Failure to investigate serious misconduct can have dire repercussions for the organization. Assuming a decision has been made to conduct an investigation, you should have procedures for how to run one, including a method for selecting the investigator, assigning the case, and tracking and reporting the investigation. If you choose not to investigate, explain your decision.
2. Choose An Investigator
Before selecting an investigator, there are a few factors to consider. You may require an investigator with specialized skills, experience, or legal expertise that is unavailable in-house.
Depending on the type of investigation, it may be necessary to consider the investigator’s gender. If your workplace investigation spans multiple locations, you may require foreign resources, a speaker of a particular language, or someone with local knowledge. If you have an internal candidate for this position, that’s ideal; otherwise, you will need to hire an external investigator.
3. Prepare For The Investigation.
Developing an investigation plan aids in avoiding scope creep. Planning enables you to concentrate on the incident under investigation, ensures that your workplace investigation stays on track, and makes efficient use of resources. Gather any information about the problem to use as a guide, and consider what you’ll need to learn to determine what occurred.
4. Carry Out Research
To gather information on the involved parties by examining social media and other sources. Learn about your interviewees’ backgrounds to establish rapport with them more easily. Be mindful of how this preliminary research may contribute to prejudging people, resulting in a biased interview and investigation, and make a concerted effort to prevent this.
5. Carry Out Interviews
Before an interview, the investigator should familiarize themselves with all pertinent facts and information to formulate relevant questions. After reviewing applicable workplace policies and complaint documents, the complainant is typically the subject of the initial interview.
It is the opportunity for the investigator to obtain a complete understanding of the issues by hearing from the party. The complainant should also be encouraged to provide the investigator with pertinent documents. The investigator will then wish to meet with all relevant witnesses. Remember that the interview phase of the workplace investigation is to determine what occurred. To achieve this objective, you may employ various interview techniques and strategies.
6. Obtain All Available Evidence
The gathering of evidence can be the most time-consuming aspect of an investigation. Everything you discover constitutes evidence. It is essential to consider every piece of evidence you uncover, regardless of whether it fits with your initial impressions of the case or your other findings.
All physical evidence must be securely stored and recorded. Additionally, digital evidence should be authenticated, captured, preserved, and stored. When securing evidence, it is essential to follow best practices for the chain of custody. Consider how each piece of evidence contributes to the story of what transpired. Remember that your job is to discover the truth and evaluate each piece of evidence based on this criterion. There are numerous potential types of evidence, and each can contribute to a successful workplace investigation.
7. Evaluate The Gathered Evidence.
The most challenging aspect of many investigations — particularly when witnesses disagree or contradict one another — is determining what occurred. There are some tried-and-true methods for deciding where the truth lies — ways that we all use to get to the bottom of things in our workplaces. Consider, for instance, who is telling the truth and convincing you and who wants to deceive you. Sometimes, you may have no choice but to concede that you lack sufficient information to determine what occurred.
8. Reach A Conclusion
Based on your interviews and the collected evidence, the next step of a workplace investigation is to conclude. Your conclusion consists of the simple determination of whether or not the allegation or report is accurate.
If you cannot conclude, try conducting additional interviews, gathering further evidence, and reviewing previously collected data. Based on your conclusion, the company must decide whether to take action and, if so, what action to take. In this instance, you could take disciplinary action against the employee.
9. Document The Investigation’s Findings.
You should document every phase of the workplace investigation and, in the end, make a report. An investigation report is the culmination of all the steps, interviews, evidence gathered, and conclusions reached. It describes the tasks you performed and the data you collected to reach your conclusion. The investigation report will protect the company from lawsuits related to the investigation. It will also provide a written record if the same employees engage in misconduct in the future.
You should not close the case once an investigation has been concluded, documented, and resolved; instead, you should conduct a follow-up. It is essential to conduct post-investigation follow-up to assess the impact of any actions taken on those involved in the investigation and others impacted.
In addition to examining any changes implemented as a result of data analysis, follow-up involves examining any modifications made. It should be an ongoing process that puts your organization in a position to anticipate and manage risks and identify trends before they become problems.
A practical investigation can safeguard the company by minimizing or eradicating any potential liability arising from the underlying issue. It can also contribute to a healthier work environment by making employees feel appreciated. In addition, allocating time and resources to examine organizational issues frequently results in creating or improving company policies that could prevent specific problems from recurring.
Nonetheless, there are a few common pitfalls associated with workplace investigations. An investigation going awry may result in more issues and potential liability for the company than the situation that prompted it. Among the most frequent mistakes made during workplace investigations are the following:
1. Late Investigation Commencement
As soon as a company receives a complaint or allegation, regardless of the source, it should evaluate the claim and take immediate action. Initially, the issue underlying the complaint could worsen during the investigation. It harms the affected employees and the company can be sued. In addition, specific employment laws require employers to investigate inevitable complaints within a specified time frame.
2. Ensuring Complete Confidentiality
During the investigation’s fact-finding phase, the investigator will meet with the employees involved in the complaint and any other employees who may serve as witnesses. The investigator should ensure that information given by the employees is kept confidential and also should give an explanation for deciding to do the interview. However, this assurance is not absolute. If internal or external counsel is conducting the investigation, an Upjohn warning must be issued. The investigator should clarify in all investigations that the information employees provide may be shared with regulatory authorities.
3. Selecting The Incorrect Investigator
Case-by-case, a company should determine who will serve as the investigator. The investigator assigned to each complaint should be impartial and have no close ties to any of the employees involved or the issue at stake. Additionally, the investigator should have strong interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, particularly when handling highly delicate complaints. A workplace investigation should never employ intimidating tactics that discourage employees from sharing information. These strategies degrade the work environment and impede the investigation process.
The following are some suggestions for conducting workplace investigations quickly and effectively:
1. Be Prepared By Establishing Policies.
Anticipate that you will need to conduct a workplace investigation at some point and establish a method for doing so. By knowing what to do in case of an issue, you can avoid wasting time figuring out logistical matters, instead focusing on the specific issues at hand and taking immediate action. Review your organization’s policies and procedures regarding complaints periodically. Ensure that you know how claims will be investigated and resolved.
2. Keep An Open Mind
During the investigation, the investigator must maintain an open mind. It is too simple to make assumptions and leap to conclusions, but doing so introduces bias into the investigation and could potentially affect the results.
3. Utilize Multidisciplinary Groups
Investigations in the workplace may be simple or highly complex. These investigations would benefit from a group effort. Before final decisions are made, for example, you should consult in-house counsel and management.
4. Documentation Of The Investigation Process
You should keep track of the steps you take throughout the investigation, beginning with receiving the complaint and continuing through fact-finding and resolution. Your investigation should accompany a report summarizing these steps and reiterating the evidence gathered. It is essential to keep in mind that any allegation may result in litigation. Protect your company by meticulously documenting every step of the process.
5. Communicate Distinctly At All Times.
Throughout the process, the individuals conducting and supervising the investigation must maintain clear and effective communication with one another and the individuals involved.
It is essential to give the complainant the impression that the company is taking the complaint seriously. Once a final decision has been made, inform all parties involved. The employees implicated in the complaint should be notified that a decision has been made. . The investigator should assure the complainant that the managers responsible will take the necessary steps to resolve the issue.
The following are examples of frequently asked questions regarding workplace investigations:
1. What Are The Rights Of Employees During A Workplace Investigation?
Investigations must be performed reasonably, objectively, promptly, and per a fair method. The law grants employees the right to be accompanied to grievance meetings, disciplinary meetings, or hearings if a formal warning is issued.
2. What Goes On During A Workplace Investigation?
An investigation is conducted when someone files a grievance against another. It allows all parties to explain themselves, hear the other side, and collaborate with the employer to fix the matter.
3. What Are The Processes Involved In Initiating An Investigation At Work?
Determining whether an investigation is required, planning for an investigation, holding an investigation meeting, dealing with any witnesses, reporting the investigation’s findings, and concluding the inquiry are the steps involved.
The investigator should have an open mind and avoid taking sides. A workplace investigation allows the employer to respond to the incidents and establish appropriate action. These complaints frequently expose workplace regulations and procedures gaps that we should address to prevent future workplace accidents.