No matter the size or industry, all companies and organizations will have to take on the obstacle of workplace complaints, and the investigations that follow. Often complex and challenging, HR professionals are dealing with everything from uneasy employees and constant regulatory change to possible training gaps and shifting demographics. In order to help mitigate the potential risks and mistakes involved in such an undertaking, utilize these 7 steps to a detailed workplace investigation.
1. Connect with the Employee(s) and Ensure Confidentiality
Once a complaint is received, the first step is to reach out to the complainant(s) and assure them that the investigative proceedings will remain confidential. This protects the integrity of the process and maintains a relationship of trust between the complainant and the case manager. Be sure to also communicate the fact that their complaint or allegation is important and will be taken seriously regardless of perceived seriousness, or the amount of complaints the employee has issued in the past.
2. Determine if an Investigation is Required
Before undergoing any investigation, it is important to determine if one is necessary in the first place. To do this, one must understand the complaint. This will likely involve requesting the employee put their complaint in writing, if they had not already, as a mere discussion will seldom suffice in this context. Additionally, the HR professional on the case should consult their organization’s policies and procedures for any relevant instruction or guidance they may provide. This way, HR can ensure complaints are properly addressed, and avoid wasting time and resources on unwarranted cases.
3. Identify the Investigator
After determining the necessity for a workplace investigation, it can then be decided who will conduct it. Be it a manager, HR professional or even a third party, be alert to any possible conflicts of interest. For instance, if the complaint was made against a manager or someone in HR, they should not be tasked with investigating the case, in order to avoid bias. Further, be vigilant in vetting your potential investigator for outside-of-work relationships with the complainant and accused in order to ensure an impartial and fair investigation. If interviews will be required to resolve a case, utilize best practices. Take a look at “Employee Investigation Questions For Case Management.”
4. Ensure all Documents and Information are Retained
Gather all the physical evidence and information that might verify the complaint; HR investigators are obligated to avoid making assumptions, especially when it comes to “he said, she said” cases. They must have the facts and data to back the accusation up. Supporting documents such as emails, photos and witness reports should be securely retained and evaluated, a practice that is considerably less difficult with the utilization of case management software.
5. Verify the Right People are Reviewing the Findings
Who should overlook the findings of a workplace investigation will depend on the seriousness of the allegations and the necessity for impartiality. If an allegation ends up overturning a more wide spread problem in the workplace, it may then be better to have the complaint investigated by a third party such as an impartial external consultant. However, if the findings aren’t so far-reaching, it only follows that the investigation may be carried out within the policies and procedures of the organization. With case management software, for example, automated workflows facilitate this process by routing the next steps from the HR investigator to a supervisor, legal administrator, and so on until the case proceedings have been vetted sufficiently.
6. Identify the Next Steps
Once the findings have been adequately reviewed, the interviews are completed, and the accused has had a final opportunity to answer to the complaint, an investigation report should be prepared. This report will typically include the background of the complaint or allegations, the evidence and supporting documents, and the content of the investigative interviews. It will also include the conclusion or resolution of the case. Remember, this report and the details therein must not be provided to the parties or anyone who was not investigating or supervising the case. If the conclusion of the report reveals unsavory workplace behaviors on a larger scale, consider conducting employee training and refining your organization’s policies and procedures.
7. Close the Loop with the Employees
If the investigator has found beyond a reasonable doubt that company policies and procedures were violated or misconduct occurred, use the findings as a platform to discipline where appropriate. Remember that retaining case histories in full is a veritable best practice, especially if the decided resolution involves terminating an employee, as this will protect the organization and the case investigator in court.
In conclusion, the most important things to keep in mind when conducting a workplace investigation are maintaining confidentiality and impartiality, following the organization’s policies and procedures, choosing the right investigator, retaining case data and supporting documents, and allowing all involved parties an opportunity to be heard. A workplace investigation that is carried out with the utilization of the steps outlined in this article will typically result in a conclusion that is in the best interest of the involved parties as well as the company.