Tips for Conducting a Workplace Investigation

Workplace InvestigationsConducting workplace investigations is one of the most challenging and critical duties that HR professionals must take on.  Whenever an employee files a complaint, whether it's related to discrimination, harassment, theft or failure to comply with workplace laws, the organization needs to conduct a quick and thorough internal investigation.

If companies don’t handle these investigations properly and in a timely fashion, it can have serious repercussions.  For instance, if a company doesn't adequately respond to these allegations, the event could tarnish the company's brand and reputation both to its customers and also in the eyes of its current and future workforce. 

Here are some tips for conducting an investigation to avoid a similar situation:

Know the law - Being an HR professional is more complicated now than in the past as employee are more aware of their rights, regulations change frequently and workplace demographics are shifting.  HR professionals need to stay up to date with any legislation that could impact their workplace. This can help them prepare quickly in case of an incident.

Have a plan - It's important to have a written plan in the event an employee files a serious complaint.  A good plan will define a clear purpose and scope to the investigation.  It will determine who and what will be investigated, what evidence needs to be collected and who will be interviewed.

Interview all parties - HR needs to track down everyone involved or anyone who may have witnessed the incident. Interviewers should thoroughly plan their questions as well as follow-up questions that encourage interviewees to open up.

Remain objective - While it can be difficult for investigators to remain impartial, it's important for HR to be objective to ensure the investigation is fairly carried out.  Never make assumptions unless you have facts and data to back it up.  As well, be alert to any potential conflicts of interest and encourage all parties to keep the proceedings confidential to protect the integrity of the process.

Be Quick but Thorough - It's critical to investigate an allegation quickly.  Stretching an investigation out over a lengthy period tells employees the alleged misconduct isn’t important.  As time goes by, it becomes more difficult to collect evidence and get witnesses to talk.  Details are forgotten. Documents disappear.  The behaviour in question may also continue to occur.

…and lastly

Document everything  - Proper documentation throughout the investigation is key. HR staff should use employee management software to store any information they learn in the course of the investigation. This data may be useful in future cases as well.

Workplace investigations are tricky. Having proper HR management software ensures that companies are able to document every step of the procedures and make sure it all makes it into the final report.