Tips For Conducting Fair HR Investigations

Jeffrey Fermin
Jeffrey Fermin
February 8, 2023
7 Min Read
Tips For Conducting Fair HR Investigations

As an HR professional or people leader, it's important to know the best practices for conducting fair hr investigations. It is part of your responsibility to ensure everyone involved in the investigation is treated fairly and that all relevant facts are collected during the process.

Yes, addressing any problem can be stressful, but if done correctly and with the right resources,  investigations can be handled efficiently and effectively. Here are a few best practices to consider when conducting hr investigations.

Quick Definition: What is an HR investigation?

An HR investigation is an examination of a workplace issue or concern. It could involve anything from investigating employee misconduct to harassment claims and determining the best course of action for resolution. The purpose of an HR investigation is to collect evidence and determine whether company policies have been violated or if further disciplinary actions need to be taken.

If you are an HR leader, you should have a few best practices in mind before starting an hr investigation:

Follow a Standard HR Investigation Timeline

A set timeline is important for conducting fair HR investigations. The company's policies should include a standard investigation timeline, which the HR team can use to ensure that all investigations are conducted in a fair and consistent manner.  

Why is a timeline important? It ensures that all parties involved have adequate time to review the evidence, respond to questions, and provide any additional information. Additionally, it helps HR leaders remain organized throughout the process and can prevent miscommunication or overlooked details.

Wondering how to organize your investigation timeline?  Start by setting deadlines for key investigation steps such as interviews, data collection, and report reviews. You should also consider the time necessary to provide feedback to all parties involved in the hr investigation.

Explain to the Person Why They Are Being Interviewed

When you interview someone, it's important to explain the reason for your investigation. You should also explain that they are not under suspicion and will not be punished if they do not confess to wrongdoing.

You should also clearly state that this is an interview, not an interrogation or a trial.

Explain how much time they have to respond before you finish your investigation (e.g., "I'll give you ten minutes"), so they know what kind of answers you're looking for and can prepare accordingly.

You should set these interviews in a comfortable environment, such as a private office or meeting room. This will create an atmosphere of trust and allow the person to feel safe in providing relevant information. Organize all of the information collected in these interviews and review it carefully to ensure accuracy and fairness.

If you're looking for the safest and most secure way to organize these investigations, use the AllVoices Investigations Management Tool. You can even collect anonymous reports with our anonymous reporting tool.

Adhere to your company’s HR investigation protocol

In order to conduct fair investigations, you must adhere to your company's HR investigation protocol. This means reviewing the protocol and following it consistently. If there are parts of the protocol that are unclear or if you have questions about how best to proceed, ask your HR team for help before proceeding with an investigation.

What to do when you don't have a protocol: If your company does not have a protocol, work hard to create one. You can work with the HR team and legal professionals to ensure the protocol is compliant with all applicable laws and regulations. This will provide guidance for hr investigations and help ensure consistent processes are followed. If you don't have access to resources you can try downloading a free hr investigation template from the SHRM and using it as a checklist.

Don’t delay the investigation process

Delaying an investigation is never a good idea. The longer you leave it, the more likely it is that witnesses and evidence will be lost or become hard to find. If you do delay, ensure that the reasons for doing so are well-documented (and legitimate).

When it comes to conducting investigations into workplace misconduct, there's no such thing as "too soon." As soon as an allegation of wrongdoing has been made against one of your employees, start investigating immediately so that any claims against them can be resolved quickly and fairly.

If there are extenuating circumstances surrounding a particular case where it might make sense not to begin investigating right away — for example, if there's some reason why gathering information during business hours would be impossible —it's still best practice to document those reasons clearly when documenting what happened during each stage of this process so that nothing comes back later on down the line when someone asks why something wasn't done sooner than later.

Types of problems that can arise from delaying an investigation:

  • The person who made the complaint may feel that their concerns are not being taken seriously.
  • The accused person may have time to cover their tracks and destroy evidence.
  • Witnesses may forget what they saw or heard.
  • The overall morale in the workplace can suffer if employees feel that the process is not being handled in a timely manner.
  • The company may be exposed to legal risks if any claims are filed against it for failing to adequately address the complaint in a timely manner.

These are just some potential problems that can arise from delaying hr investigations. It's important to remember that while taking the time to conduct a thorough investigation is important, it's equally important to ensure the process is handled promptly so that everyone involved can be confident that their concerns are being addressed properly.

Ask the right HR investigation questions

When conducting an HR investigation, it's important to ask the right questions at the right time. You should avoid asking closed-ended questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Instead of asking "Are you guilty?" try "What happened?" or "How did you feel when this happened?".

In addition to being open-ended, good investigative questions are relevant to both the situation and your investigation.  It's important to ensure that you're covering all relevant areas and not just focusing on one aspect of the situation. Asking a variety of questions helps you build a full picture and get to the bottom of what happened.

Finally, it's important to be mindful of how you phrase your questions. Avoid making assumptions or being overly accusatory in your questions. It can be tempting to ask leading questions, but doing so can lead to inaccurate answers and bias the outcome of the investigation.

When asking hr investigation questions, it's important to keep your tone neutral and professional, as well as ensure that the questions are relevant and open-ended. Doing so will help you get accurate information and paint a full picture of what happened. Taking the time to craft effective investigative questions will help you get to the bottom of any hr investigations and ensure that they are handled fairly and effectively.

Document the findings from your investigation

The findings from your investigation should be documented in a written report. This can be done in a variety of formats, but it's important to note that you should always document the findings as objectively and concisely as possible.

Documentation helps you to be more objective and fair because it allows you to look back at what happened during an investigation without being influenced by personal feelings or opinions about those involved. If someone is found guilty of wrongdoing, then documenting this fact makes it easier for future HR professionals who may read through past investigations when making decisions about hiring new employees or approving promotions within the company.

Documenting findings also help ensure thoroughness — if all relevant information has been gathered during each step of an investigation (e.g., interviewing witnesses), then there will be less chance for mistakes later when writing up conclusions based on these interviews' contents; similarly if any evidence was collected (e., photos/videos), then they should also be included in any written reports prepared after completing all aspects related to hr investigations.

Remember, HR investigations should be fair and transparent

HR investigations should be conducted in a fair and transparent manner. The best way to ensure this is by following a set of best practices, like those outlined in this article. Remember, it's important to be aware of potential biases that can come into play during investigations — they should be objective, not influenced by personal opinions or biases, and not driven by emotion or politics - that is to say, they should follow the evidence wherever it leads them (or doesn't).

This means being open-minded when interviewing witnesses who may have differing perspectives on events than those held by yourself or others involved with the investigation process; it also means accepting that even if something feels wrong to you personally as an investigator, there might still be valid reasons why someone else did what they did which don't reflect poorly upon their character. Ultimately, any hr investigation should be conducted in a way that upholds the company's values of fairness and transparency.

If you need any assistance with conducting investigations, reach out to us and we'll set you up with our investigations tool and tips to conduct your first investigation.

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