Eventually, almost every employer will have to conduct some sort of workplace investigation. Workplace investigations are an important and delicate exercise, whether because of a dispute between co-workers or a need to address unethical or unlawful behavior. Almost anything can trigger the need to investigate: suspected misconduct, rules violations, or even a sudden decline in an employee’s morale, behavior, or performance. Investigations may also follow suspected substance abuse, threats made by an employee, as well as instances of workplace theft.
However, workplace investigations often leave employers stressed and anxious, because one wrong move could land them, or their business in trouble. So how do employers and HR managers go about investigations in the workplace?
Employers have a legal duty to investigate whenever there is a reason to suspect unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. Workplace safety issues also require prompt action.
The legal obligation to investigate may be triggered following a formal complaint or grievance, but also anytime an employer receives information or becomes aware of unlawful or unsafe behavior in the workplace.
Important to note is that "unsafe behavior" does not necessarily mean behavior that may lead to physical harm, but rather both physical and emotional harm to employees, physical harm to the workplace (vandalism for instance), or harm to the success and performance of the business.
No matter how urgent the situation, it’s critical to combine preparation with the
flexibility to follow the investigation wherever it leads.
While there is always the option of HR Services that include workplace investigations, like those available from Payday HCM, here are some tips for how to prepare for, and go about a workplace investigation.
Workplace Investigation Planning
The following steps and tips are crucial when it comes to staying prepared for any workplace investigations that may come up in your business.
Keep an Open Mind
Try to gain a broad perspective. Avoid prejudging the situation based on what little you know; focus on what you still need to find out. Don’t limit the investigation to those facts that support your early theory.
Identify the Issues
Map the issues you know about and any others that may arise. Consider
the organizational or personality dynamics that may complicate your investigation. Identify how internal politics may affect the investigation.
Consider Seeking Legal Advice
You may want to involve your attorney at the outset, especially if there are red flags of potential liabilities. Knowing the elements of potential legal claims can help you identify the information you should seek from witnesses. If you decide to proceed without legal counsel, re-evaluate as the investigation
progresses. Sufficient investigation and appropriate remedial follow-up could help limit your organization’s liability.
List the Information You Need
Determine what you need to know to make an informed decision. Identify potential interview subjects and determine who should reach out to them and
what should be discussed with each.
Keep Issues Confidential
Strict confidentiality helps avoid gossip and morale problems. It also limits legal liabilities. Identify people who need to know about an issue and what they need to know to do their jobs. Keep the rest under wraps.
Tips for Executing Workplace Investigations
The following steps and tips are critical in order to use best practices when it comes to actually executing a workplace investigation.
Use an Objective and Neutral Investigator
Give careful thought to who will conduct the investigation. Use someone removed from the situation to maintain objectivity and neutrality. If the issue is political—or if the outcome may implicate higher-ups—consider bringing in an
Before conducting an interview, review pertinent documents and prepare written questions appropriate for the goal or purpose of the interview. Decide in advance
how to discuss the purpose of the interview with each subject, as well as how to respond to questions you might be asked.
Conduct Thorough Interviews
Start with broad questions and then narrow it down to specific issues. Try to get all the details: what happened, when, where, who was involved, and whether
this person witnessed any other concerning behavior.
Ask follow-up questions, such as, “Is there anything else I should know about? Do you have any other concerns?” Follow up on new or incomplete information. Take notes of each interview.
However, don’t draw conclusions in your notes, and don’t include comments about the witness or situation that are not factual. Remember, your notes may be disclosed later in a legal proceeding.
Get Help With HR and Workplace Investigations
Just one mistake when investigating workplace insubordination and misconduct can cost your company, making it that much more important to get these investigations right.
For companies that are struggling to conduct workplace investigations, or struggling with general HR compliance and management, contact us today, or fill out the form on this page to learn more about our HR Services, and how we can take care of your workplace investigations for you.