By: Kayla Bell on October 23rd, 2013

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How to Conduct Workplace Investigations

Risk Management | Best Practices | Employee Relations

As HR professionals, we are often approached to help investigate a situation that has arisen within an organization.  Workplace investigations typically begin when an individual notifies a company representative of a concern or occurrence in the workplace that they feel should be further explored. There are a number of situations that could trigger a workplace investigation. Some of the most significant and common situations that initiate the investigation process include but are not limited to:

  • Hostile Work Environment
  • Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Misconduct
  • Manager/Employee Dispute
  • Workplace Violence
  • Ethics Violation

Employees who notify a company representative of an ethical concern that launches an investigation, should be protected from adverse action as a result of notifying the company.  Adverse action includes being terminated, demoted, denied for a promotion, disciplined, intimidated or threatened, reduction in pay, etc.

To ensure that all workplace investigations are handled consistently and fairly, it is recommended to have a formal and established process for conducting workplace investigations.  The following steps are recommended for all employee investigations.

1. Have a written plan.

  • It is important to document the investigation process that is to occur for all complaints.
  • Should the process deviate from the original plan, be sure to document what occurred and why any actions were taken throughout the course of the investigation.

2. Identify who will conduct the investigation.

  • Typically the Human Resources Department conducts workplace investigations.

3. Do not make an initial assumption on how the investigation will end.

  • Complaints received are one person’s account of a situation.  It is important to remain unbiased throughout the investigation.
  • Do not begin to suggest next steps until completing the investigation and documenting findings.

4. Identify and Gather Evidence.

  • This process is done by interviewing individuals involved as well as potential witnesses for information related to the issue at hand.
  • If the complaint was not submitted anonymously, you should begin by having a conversation with the individual who notified the company of the situation.
  • Prepare your interview questions ahead of time.  Interview questions should be open-ended questions that allow the individual the opportunity to provide an explanation of the event from their perspective.  Ask probing questions.
  • Inform employees that the interview meeting is confidential in nature.  He/she is not to discuss the meeting with anyone.  Any information provided by the interviewee will be shared anonymously.
  • Pay attention to the physical queues; not just what they are saying out loud.  Employees may be hesitant to provide information that will “get someone in trouble”.  If they appear to be nervous or hesitant to provide information, reassure them that the investigation and the information that they provide is confidential.
  • Be sure to conduct interviews with all individuals that may have been involved in or witnessed the situation that is being investigated.
  • Document all findings from your interviews.
  • Physical evidence is significant when it comes to determining the outcome of the investigation; physical evidence includes, but is not limited to: e-mail trails, timesheet records, IT utilization records, etc.

5. Analyze the Evidence

  • Review the testimonials and physical evidence obtained throughout the information gathering process to determine what actually occurred.
  • Remain unbiased; look at the facts only.

6. Write an Investigation Report

  • An investigation report will document the process followed during the investigation, who was interviewed, information gathered during the interview, and a final summary of findings (what appears to have actually occurred).

7. Determine Next Steps

  • After conducting the investigation, you may find that it is necessary to take disciplinary action on one or more employees.   It is important to ensure a thorough and fair investigation for all concerns or situations brought to your attention.  Following these guidelines will help you do just that.