Is Your Company Prepared to Conduct an Employee Investigation?

Handle employee complaints

Experts Stress: Be Thorough, Quick—and Meticulous


There is a big difference between handling day-to-day employee complaints and conducting a full-fledged investigation, says Natalie Ivey, a human resources consultant with more than two decades of HR management experience. The latter requires by-the-book adherence to a whole host of guidelines and regulations.

With today’s elevated levels of high-profile employee complaints, business owners and HR professionals at every level need to know how to conduct an investigation from start to finish—from identifying if one is needed in the first place to obtaining statements, understanding legal obligations, preparing for witness interviews, analyzing evidence, documenting findings, and staying legal when it comes to disciplinary actions and terminations.

The bottom line, is that improperly-conducted investigations expose employers to legal risks.

Avoid These Common Mistakes

Case management software developer i-Sight lists six common mistakes made when investigating workplace complaints:

  • Not having a reporting system
  • Not investigating the complaint properly
  • Failing to collect and analyze evidence properly
  • Putting the wrong people on the investigation team
  • Conducting poor interviews
  • Coming to the wrong conclusions

Of course, coming to the right conclusion is the end goal of every investigation. That includes preventing repeated bad behavior.

“Make sure the punishment fits the crime,” says Joe Gerard, the CEO of i-Sight. “To ensure that the incident does not happen again, properly train the subject to correct their action and explain to them why they are being reprimanded the way they are. Inform them that you enforce your policies and those who choose not to abide by them will face the consequences. Not all cases are the same, therefore, solutions should be concluded on a case-by-case basis.”

When Investigating, Follow 8 Steps

Legal resource website Nolo notes that a proper investigation can help you figure out what happened, determine how to act, and—importantly—avoid liability. Nolo suggests:

  • Decide if an investigation is needed
  • Be prepared to act immediately
  • Choose an experienced investigator
  • Plan the investigation
  • Interview, investigate, and gather evidence—then analyze
  • Take action
  • Document the investigation
  • Follow up with employees to make sure the problem is settled

Don’t Let It Lag

The Society for Human Resource Management stresses, in an article entitled How to Conduct a Workplace Investigation,” that your approach should be quick but thorough.

“As time goes by, it will become more difficult to collect evidence and get witnesses to talk,” the article notes. “Details are forgotten. Documents disappear. Bad behavior continues.”

But: “Just grabbing a notepad and calling in one witness after the other is most definitely not the best option,” Ivey warns. Your HR staff must have a basic understanding of when an investigation is needed and how to conduct one thoroughly—not just reactively.

(This post first appeared in a ProfEd blog)

By Jeff S on 16th January 2018

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