Workplace Investigations

HR professionals have a challenging job. Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects is dealing with employee misconduct in the workplace. In order to avoid allegations of potential unfair treatment, businesses need a defined process for workplace investigations.

Without a structured approach to investigating conflicts or misconduct in the workplace, you run the risk of making a bad situation that much worse. This blog will help you understand how to create a workplace investigation protocol that works well for all parties involved.

Creating a Functional Workplace Investigation Process

The investigation interview is a huge part of the process. The approach to investigating occurrences in the workplace should have a focus on uncovering crucial facts to arrive at a fair and equitable outcome. A poorly performed investigation can have massive implications for a company, including damages, back pay, and even reinstating employees fired as a result of the investigation.

A properly conducted workplace investigation, by contrast, brings essential information to light. This empowers HR managers to make the right decision, based on all available facts. A correctly executed investigation goes a long way to build trust between employees and management, as well as weeding out unsavory characters from your workforce.

Of course, that’s not to say it can’t be a difficult, even uncomfortable, ordeal for all parties involved. Even so, with a focus on collecting pertinent facts, you can create a process that works for the benefit of both the individual employee and the workplace as a whole. Here are a few practices that seem to work well with most modern businesses:

  1. Create a Standardized Timeline for Investigation
  2. Be Transparent About the Reasons for an Investigation
  3. Don’t Step Outside Company Investigation Protocols
  4. Avoid Delaying the Investigation
  5. Be Sure To Pose the Right Questions
  6. Document Every Step of the Process

Read on to find out more.

Create a Standardized Timeline for Investigation

Whenever there is a conflict or alleged misconduct, the investigation process will likely take several days, or even weeks, to be properly executed. As such, it is best to develop a standard timeline for certain types of investigations, such as harassment, embezzlement, lies on a resume, or even workplace bullying. Your timeline should take into account the number of interviews you need to conduct.

This will usually include the complainant, the employee accused of misconduct, any witnesses to the event, and in some cases, the managers of both employees. All of this takes time, especially when your approach is to uncover and ascertain as many relevant facts as possible. In order to streamline your investigation, you need to create standardized timelines and adhere to them to make sure there are no unnecessary delays in the process.

Be Transparent About the Reasons for an Investigation

Interviewing a worker accused of misconduct can be a tricky situation. On one hand, for obvious reasons, you may need to protect the identity of the complainant. This is especially true if the employee against whom the allegations have been made is in a senior position or management role. Confidentiality protects the complainant from possible blowback in case of the investigation rules in the other party’s favour.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to create elaborate conversations to extract information. While certain information should always remain confidential, it is only fair to tell the other party what they are being investigated for. In such cases, the reasons for the HR investigation must be made clear, even if the specifics surrounding the complainant are not disclosed.

Don’t Step Outside Company Investigation Protocols

Even smaller companies have some form of procedures for investigation; usually, this process is outlined in the employee handbook. If your company doesn’t have a structure in place, we suggest you work on developing one immediately. The structure defined by your company policies is sacred, which means that when conducting an investigation, the investigator must be careful not to exceed it.

Doing so can possibly violate both company policy and workplace investigations employee rights. In these cases, the aggrieved parties involved can create pain points for the organization, regardless of whether they were guilty of misconduct or not. Ensure that fair treatment is practiced universally across the board, and equally within the parameters of company policy.

Avoid Delaying the Investigation

Unnecessarily delaying a serious workplace investigation is one of the worst things HR professionals can do. It reflects poorly on your HR function as a whole. If you’re not careful, such delays will have a negative impact on your employer brand.

You may earn the unwanted image of being a company that protects employees involved in misconduct. This will seriously impair your chances of attracting future talent, especially in competitive fields like IT staffing, as well as harming your reputation in the industry, both as an employer as well as a brand.

Be Sure To Pose the Right Questions

The investigation process needs to be unbiased, treating both parties with equal respect and seriousness. That means you need to carefully plan out the questions being asked, ensuring they appear fair and objective. Remember: employees can easily gain the impression that the investigation is moving towards a pre-determined outcome. This will seriously undermine the trust they have with the HR function and will impact employee morale.

By comparison, a consistent process that is fair, objective, and gives an unbiased employee evaluation will be better received. Remember, it is not just the process that matters, but how it is perceived by workers as well. Work with HR professionals or even your local staffing agency to develop a standardized list of questions to remove any perceptions of bias.

Document Every Step of the Process

Given the possibility that a disgruntled employee who feels they were treated unfairly can sue your business, covering all bases is a prudent approach. One of the best ways to do this is to ensure you carefully document each stage of the investigation process.

Documenting the process means including crucial dates, interview summaries, and key findings that helped HR arrive at a decision. You should also document the processes through which you acquired the relevant facts, ensuring they are transparent and free from any bias or preconceived opinions. It also wouldn’t hurt to add ancillary information, such as past performance appraisals that can attest to an employee’s work history at your company.

The way you carry out investigations into misconduct within your workplace is a direct reflection of your company culture. Workers have very little patience for workplace harassment, bullying, coercion, or even biased treatment. That means there will most likely be conflicts that require immediate attention.

The transparency and objectiveness of how you conduct an investigation will have a huge impact on employee morale, as well as your employer brand. Nobody wants to work at a business that sweeps problems under the carpet. However, a fair employer who takes allegations seriously will always be a safer and more attractive career option to potential candidates.

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