Every now and then a problem or a complaint happens in every company. Whether it was accusations of sexual misconduct at work, drug use or violation of company rules, a workplace investigation is extremely important for every employer. Proper investigation of what really happened can make a world of difference for every company. In most cases, improper handling with these kinds of cases has proven itself to expose companies to even more damage.
Employers are already familiar with the investigation process because the hiring process is a form of investigation itself. HR professionals are extremely important in these kinds of cases because they do all the detective work. Also, it is very important for them and the employers to know all the necessary steps and practices they should follow in order to have a professional and successful investigation.
1. Is an investigation necessary?
Before you go Sherlock Holmes and start investigating, you should first decide if it’s really necessary. In some cases employees all agree that the incident or the problem wasn’t that big of a deal, then you should maybe decide not to make a full-blown investigation at all. However, it is usually better to make an inquiry. Sometimes the problem can be more serious than it seems and if not investigated it can create legal problems and workplace problems.
2. Find a good investigator
If you really decided to make a serious workplace investigation then an experienced investigator is a must. He should be trained in investigation techniques and can be neutral and perceived neutral by the employees. These professionals should be good actors and even if necessary ready to testify in court.
3. Immediate action
If a situation is really serious then you should act quickly. Sometimes there are situations that can bring immediate damage to your business. For example, an employee is bringing a weapon to work or sexually harassing a co-worker or stealing and trading business secrets. The first thing you should do is to suspend him with pay and then make an inquiry yourself. Be careful not to prejudge the situation too fast.
Interviews are one of the most crucial stages of an investigation. They are crucial because the investigator gets the most valuable information about the employees accused of wrongdoing and witnesses and their credibility. The best way to do this is to just ask people questions. In general investigators interview at least two parties. The ones accused, the victims and the ones who made a complaint. It is important to get as much information as possible and the best way is to ask open-ended questions.
5. Evidence evaluation
Sometimes in these investigations employees and witnesses disagree and completely contradict each other. So it becomes really hard to determine what really happened. Luckily there are ways of proving lies and deciding what is truth. The best way is to use common sense that we use every day. For example one of the stories makes the most sense or someone has a motive to lie to you or someone’s bearing is more convincing.
A systematic framework will definitely assure that the principles of the investigation are respected and it is properly conducted. The first thing you need to be sure of is a clear objective.
This way investigators won’t waste valuable time and most of all you will reduce the risk of losing valuable resources. The second thing you should do is to determine the scope of the investigation. This means to limit the investigation to actual findings. TIming in these matters is of the essence. Sometimes people’s memories fade and in time documents get lost so it is advised to act as soon as possible. Make sure it’s a balance between fast and thorough investigation.
You should also always decide if an internal investigator or an external investigator is conducting the investigation. A typical staff investigator is usually there to investigate simple complaints and problems and you should avoid hiring an external one for these matters. For more complex matters where there are serious allegations, an external investigator is the best choice because there can be a concern with the internal investigator’s neutrality.
7. Keep all parties updated
It is really important that while the investigation is being conducted that the investigators make their work transparent. One of the mistakes HR professionals often make is that they don’t update all of the involved parties about the investigation process. This can make complaining parties feel that their concerns are ignored by the company.