Workplace investigations are a critical element in establishing a safe work environment. The investigations, however, can involve negotiating several sensitive and personal topics or disputes. Conducted properly, a workplace investigation can actually help to reduce conflict, positively promote inclusion, and reduce the organization’s legal liability.
A workplace investigation can be initiated by suspected substance abuse, discrimination or harassment threats, theft, or outright violations of work policies, or other reasons. All investigations or reasons initiating the investigation will be different, so there is no cut and dry workflow to handle each, but basic procedures should be outlined.
The person(s) chosen to lead investigations should be respected, knowledgeable about company policies, procedures, and employee rights (including employment law), and trained in conducting workplace investigation interviews. When necessary, some situations may require a member of the executive team to be involved. This person should also exhibit these same areas of experience.
Here are some recommended steps for ensuring workplace investigations are executed effectively.
- Ensure the HR team is equipped and prepared to recognize and introduce an investigation when one is needed.
- Work quickly to identify involved parties and interview them in a specific manner. For example, start with the person who brought forward the complaint, the accused harasser, any witnesses, and then follow up with a second conversation with the complainant.
- Use your company’s standard tracking and record-keeping system to maintain and establish and maintain secure files pertaining to the investigation.
- Document everything. Take notes throughout each interview and compose a summary once complete.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep. For instance, promising an interviewee that the information they share will be completely confidential. This is untrue. Elements of the investigation will likely be shared with people who are required to understand the full scope of the incident to take appropriate action in response to the pending investigation.
After the investigation concludes, review all of the steps taken in addition to the final report. Make suggestions for essential improvements to increase effectiveness and ensure future investigations will continue to run smoothly. Contact Harbor America to learn more about workplace investigations, developing the proper policies and procedures, or to customize a solution for everything related to the HR functions you’re unable to give your full attention.