How to conduct a workplace investigation
Workplace investigations can be extremely tense and have high stakes. While every investigation will look a little different based on the nature of the company, HR team and incident, it’s important to have a clearly defined plan for investigating reports filed by employees. Here’s a step-by-step guide to conducting a timely, impartial and thorough workplace investigation.
1. Decide whether or not to investigate a report
No matter the nature of the report, or how it was filed, every organization is obligated to take each report seriously and respond in a timely manner. Your first step is to determine whether or not the report requires a workplace investigation. Failing to properly investigate misconduct allegations hurts employees, morale, and public image. Whether you decide to proceed with an investigation or not, thoroughly record and explain the reasons for the decision.
2. Select a skilled, impartial investigator
If you decide to proceed with a workplace investigation, you will need to select a lead investigator. You can choose an in-house or outside investigator, and both have their merits. Some reports demand certain skills or legal knowledge that your in-house personnel don’t possess. Sometimes the allegation is serious enough that you want to ensure impartiality and appease the public by hiring an outside official. However, in-house personnel are often more than capable of handling many reports facing HR teams. As impartiality and fairness are crucial, make sure your investigator has no close personal ties with any involved party, or past experiences that may sway their opinion.
3. Determine the scope of the workplace investigation
Next, you’ll need to decide the specifics of what the investigation will cover. Make an investigation plan to help you stick to the specific incident instead of getting sidetracked by other items of business that may come up throughout the workplace investigation. At this point you’ll determine your list of interviewees by doing some initial research to determine who you need to speak with.
4. Conduct interviews with everyone involved
The interviews are where you try to understand what really happened. Your first interview should be with the employee who filed the report. Next, meet with any witnesses, and finally you’ll interview the subject of the allegation. There are many questioning models you can follow, but find one or a combination of a few that works for you and your subjects. Set up your interviews in a neutral and private location. If you choose to record the interview, be up front with your technique and try to set your subject at ease. If you don’t record the proceeding, make sure you take copious notes throughout the chat.
5. Gather evidence and create a secure case file
Once you have gathered information via interviews, you need to collect physical and digital evidence. Make sure you follow set procedure and always store all evidence securely. Treat all evidence as potentially helpful, and don’t be too quick to dismiss a simple file or note.
6. Determine what action, if any, should take place
With the information from interviews and evidence, it’s time to make a conclusion: is the report/allegation correct or not? If the report is deemed valid, you must decide on appropriate action Some possibilities include:
– Suspension of an employee
– Counseling or professional intervention
– Involving law enforcement if criminal behavior was discovered
– Mediation between employees
– Company policy change
7. Write the final workplace investigation report
Your report should summarize the steps of the investigation, the interviews, evidence and conclusions. Reasoning for any decision should be thoroughly documented and explained, as many different parties may read it. Your final report should defend any action or inaction, and be released as quickly as possible.
Professional and effective workplace investigation processes are essential to any organization. Employees who can trust their HR department to take them seriously and run thorough investigations have higher job satisfaction and more confidence in their employers. If you haven’t already, establish a guideline for workplace investigations that are fitting with your organization’s values and mission.
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