HR Advice

How to Conduct a Workplace Investigation

Jeffrey Fermin
Jeffrey Fermin
June 15, 2022
12 Min Read
How to Conduct a Workplace Investigation

If a workplace incident occurs, you will need to investigate the situation and determine what happened. The way you conduct your investigation can have important implications for your organization’s legal liability, employee morale and future incidents of misconduct, so it is critical to take the process seriously. 

If you do not complete an adequate investigation, or if the investigation was conducted in a biased or unfair manner, you could open your organization up to costly lawsuits and other claims. To ensure that your investigations are thorough, unbiased and legally defensible, follow this step-by-step process:

Complete the initial assessment.

You'll need to complete the initial assessment. This will be your first step in identifying the problem and is an important part of conducting workplace investigations.

Define the problem: What are you trying to solve? Start with this question, then answer it clearly and succinctly. Is there an issue with a certain group of employees? Are they not getting along well with others? Are there morale problems? Talk through your ideas with others so that they can help challenge how you see things.

Identify possible causes: Once you've defined the problem, you'll need to figure out why it exists and who’s responsible for it (or should be). Maybe someone isn't doing their job properly; maybe they're not being treated fairly; or maybe they simply don't care enough about their job or their colleagues. It's important to take time here since this will affect how much effort goes into solving other aspects of your investigation later on down the line

Do You Need to Take Immediate Action?

If the allegations are serious, you should take immediate action. This means that if, for example, a staff member has been accused of sexual harassment, assault, or any kind of workplace violence and you have reason to believe that this is the case, you must remove them from their duties immediately until they can be investigated further.

If however the allegations are minor (like someone stealing office supplies) then it may be more appropriate to wait a few days or weeks before investigating.

In this situation it's important to keep your employees informed about what's happening with regards to their complaint and make sure they understand why they're not being immediately fired or disciplined in some way. It's also important that during this time period there isn't any other behavior which could potentially lead up to future complaints being filed against them - so always keep an eye out for signs of misconduct among staff members!

Planning the Workplace Investigation

Planning your workplace investigation is the single most important thing you can do to ensure that it’s successful. As with any project, planning is essential for success.

If you have no time or resources to plan an investigation, then at least do some research about what constitutes a good workplace investigation and find out what steps are involved in conducting one. It may not be possible to complete every step listed below, but at least you will know what you need to do when it comes time for the actual investigation.

The following steps may help guide your planning:

Determine the scope of the investigation.

The first step in your workplace investigation is to determine the scope of the investigation. 

This is the time to focus on what you are looking for and what you are not looking for. It is also the time to set boundaries. You also need to determine if the focus will be on one individual or on the workplace environment as a whole. The scope of the investigation will determine the resources you need and how long the investigation will take.

Another important thing to consider here is how much time and resources you'll be able to devote to this project; make sure your workload allows for adequate staffing so that people aren't stretched too thin over multiple projects if possible—and don't forget about setting up clear expectations! 

Finally, it's important that everyone understands how long this process will take so that no one feels pressured into rushing through things unnecessarily (or worse yet: undercutting their own credibility).

Document everything, including your decisions and actions.

Documentation is an important part of any investigation. It's a good practice to document your decisions and actions in case you need to revisit them later; for example, if there are legal questions about your actions or employees file complaints with their union representative or the EEOC. 

Documenting also helps avoid conflicts of interest;  if you have to step away from the investigation for any reason, another investigator can more easily pick up where you left off if there is a clear record of your decisions and actions.

Documentation can help you remember what you did during the investigation because it forces you to write down everything that happened at each step along the way. If one person says something was said but another person denies it was said at all, then having written records will help resolve these conflicting accounts. Finally, documentation helps avoid making mistakes due to stress—it’s much easier when writing things down than when thinking back on them later!

Identify potential witnesses and other resources.

To get started, identify the people and resources that may be involved in the investigation.

  • The subject of the investigation is the person you think might have violated your company's rules or conduct guidelines. This can be a coworker, manager, or even you.
  • Witnesses are people who saw what happened or have relevant information about what happened. They may include any witnesses to an incident and/or anyone else who has knowledge of it (for example, supervisors who investigated it).
  • Potential witnesses are those employees who might have relevant information but don't seem likely to cooperate with an investigation because they're friends with one of the parties involved or otherwise "support" their point of view (for example, someone who works at another location but knows all about how things went down).

People aren't always willing to speak up when something goes awry at work—particularly if they're worried about repercussions from their employer (like retaliation from an the company), coworkers, customers or clients—so consider reaching out to other external sources such as former employers and law enforcement agencies before starting an internal investigation into wrongdoing on site!

Conduct interviews and take detailed notes.

As you conduct your interviews, take detailed notes on the process. You should also take detailed notes on the interviewee's demeanor, body language and tone of voice during each interview. Keep track of your own thoughts and observations as well as what was said by both parties during the interview.

After completing your investigation, review all documentation carefully to ensure that nothing important has been overlooked or forgotten during this process.

To Record or Not to Record the Investigation Interview

After you've conducted an initial inquiry into your employee's allegations, it's time for the investigation interview. Whether you choose to record this interview depends on a variety of factors, including whether your workplace is hostile and whether you have access to equipment.

Here are some things to consider when deciding whether or not to record:

  • What type of evidence do you need? Some cases require audio recordings more than others—for example, if there isn't much physical proof that something happened in the workplace and one person claims they were harassed while another claims they weren't harassed at all, then it makes sense that their stories would be different based on their own perceptions rather than any objective facts (such as who saw what). In these situations, recording won't be as useful because people's stories will likely change depending on who they're talking with or how much pressure they feel under during questioning; however if there is other evidence like photos/videos showing harassment then recording may help corroborate those pieces instead
  • What kind of information do you need? If there isn't any physical evidence available but only verbal accounts from each party involved then recording could still provide valuable insight into what actually happened because neither side can change their story later without being called out by someone else present during initial questioning. On the other hand, if you only need basic information like an employee's job title and contact information then recording may not be as necessary
  • What type of workplace do you have? If your workplace is particularly hostile or if there's a history of legal disputes between employees then it may be a good idea to record all interviews in case one side tries to falsely accuse the other later on down the road. However, if your workplace is generally calm and cordial with little to no history of litigation then recording may not be as necessary
  • Is it ethical?  You should also consider the ethical implications of recording an employee.  In some cases, it may not be ethical to record an interview if the employee if they are under duress (for example, if they were told that they had to participate in the interview or else face termination).

Review the information you have gathered thus far.

Once you have completed the above steps, it’s time to review all of the information that you have gathered.

  • Review your notes and evidence
  • Review witness statements
  • Review the timeline and decision matrix
  • Read over your investigation report

Now consider what conclusions can be drawn from this information. Are there any findings or recommendations that should be made? What additional questions might need to be asked during an interview? Are there other investigations that need to occur before a final conclusion could be finalized? As you review these things with your team, list out any additional tasks that need to happen before concluding this workplace investigation.

Allow Time for additional evidence or witnesses

After a reasonable amount of time for additional evidence or witnesses to come forward has elapsed, gather any new information obtained to determine if further action is required.

If no new information is obtained, the investigation is complete and you can proceed with taking action based on the results of your investigation. If new information is obtained, then the investigation may need to be reopened. If no new evidence or witnesses are found after reopening an investigation, then it might be concluded that there was insufficient support for a finding of misconduct against the employee.

Writing the investigation report

You should be sure to include all relevant information in your report. If you don't, it's easy for readers to miss important details or jump to conclusions. You want your report to be clear and concise so that it's easy for everyone involved to understand the situation and identify solutions moving forward. A template can help you remember what information is important and organize your thoughts more easily.

Avoid including assumptions or opinions on what happened during the investigation; stick with facts and details about what was observed at each stage of your investigation process, who said what at different points in time, etc., as well as who did what during each observation period (if applicable). Make sure not only that you have covered every aspect of this project but also that there are no holes in any step of the process - no loose ends!

Analyzing investigation data

It is important to analyze the information you have gathered to determine if further action is required. The following list can help you make that determination:

  • Has the issue been proven? If so, what steps should be taken next?
  • Are there still issues with workplace discrimination?
  • Do employees feel that they are being treated fairly and equally at work? If not, what can be done to improve this situation?

Investigation follow-up

Make sure to follow up with employees after an investigation has been completed. This will ensure that they feel heard and that their concerns are being addressed. Additionally, it is important to thank employees for their cooperation during the investigation process.

It is also a good idea to provide employees with updates on the status of the investigation and any actions that have been or will be taken as a result of the findings. Doing so shows that you are committed to transparency and keeping employees informed. Finally, make sure to reiterate your company's commitment to nondiscrimination and providing a fair and respectful workplace for all employees.

Just to have a checklist, make sure to do the following for a workplace investigation follow-up: 

  • Conduct a follow-up interview with the employee.
  • Conduct a follow-up interview with the witness.
  • Conduct a follow-up interview with the person who reported the incident.
  • Conduct additional interviews as necessary to gain more insight, including interviews with other relevant parties (e.g., human resources manager, supervisor).

A proper workplace investigation is essential for business continuity

When done properly, a workplace investigation is an important tool for business continuity. By taking the time to investigate allegations of misconduct, you can ensure that your company is operating in compliance with laws and regulations. 

Additionally, you can identify and remediate any systemic problems that may be putting your business at risk. Finally, a workplace investigation can help to boost morale among employees

We hope this article has helped you to better understand how to conduct a workplace investigation. Just remember that everyone’s situation will be different, and there’s no one right way of conducting an investigation. If you have questions about your particular situation, the best advice is to consult with someone who specializes in employment law. If you’re looking for a workplace investigation tool, consider AllVoices to handle all employee relations and case management. 

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