Workplace investigations can be some of the most challenging duties an HR professional has to take on. And if not done properly, can have negative financial repercussions and adversely affect the reputation of the company, not to mention employee morale.
When an employee makes a complaint, it is HR’s responsibility to take steps to immediately stop the alleged conflict, protect those involved, and investigate. Employers are legally required to investigate harassment, discrimination, retaliation, safety, and ethical complaint under a variety
of different regulatory agencies and legislation. It is then the employer’s responsibility to ensure that corrective action is implemented immediately.
It’s important to be responsive to complaints to enhance the credibility of the investigator and the employer. Although complaints can be disruptive, immediate action must be taken as each complaint has the potential to result in a lawsuit. It’s also in the employer’s best interest to
ensure that issues are dealt with before they become more widespread.
The first step to an investigation is to ensure confidentiality. However, absolute confidentiality should never be promised, as it can’t be guaranteed. Those involved should be informed that the information will be kept confidential to the extent possible and information will only be
disclosed on a need to know basis. The next step is to provide interim protection by separating the involved parties when necessary. Though, it may be necessary to seek legal advice before making any decisions as it could appear to be retaliatory and then result in a retaliation claim.
Next, the investigator is selected. The investigator must be unbiased, have no stake in the outcome, have prior investigative skills and knowledge of employment laws, strong interpersonal skills, attention to detail, and be perceived as neutral and fair. Our opinion is that an external HR consultant is the most ideal investigator as they can be the most unbiased as they are not part of the company.
The next step is to create a plan for the investigation, including an outline, the witness list, sources, interview questions, and process for retention of documentation. Once the plan has been created, the interview questions must be developed and the interviews conducted. The investigator should take notes, look for inconsistencies, and seek opportunities for more evidence or potential witnesses.
Once the interviews are complete, a decision can be made. The investigator will typically confirm with the organization leadership and legal counsel prior to communicating the decision to the affected parties.
The final steps of an investigation include formally closing the investigation by notifying the complaining employee and the accused of the outcome. Once this is done, a written summary of the investigation results is compiled.
It is very important that your organization conducts investigations correctly to minimize potential lawsuits. We can assist with your HR investigations, claims, and disputes. Contact us to find out how we can help.