Conducting Internal Workplace Investigations

Say one of your managers fires an elderly employee who then files a formal complaint stating he was a subject of age discrimination. No matter how much we may want to believe everybody under our employment is treated fairly and honestly, at the end of the day conducting internal investigations is a necessary occurrence in the workplace. Letting complaints go uninvestigated can lead to lawsuits that could cost your company thousands (or even millions) of dollars. However, simply conducting the investigation isn’t enough. There are a few key components your investigations must observe: They must be prompt, thorough and impartial. Complying with these standards will build morale amongst your employees and create a bridge of trust between them and your company’s HR professionals.

Leading internal investigations can be one of the most challenge tasks for your HR department to face. Laws surrounding employee rights are constantly changing, and it can be tough to stay up to date on them. If your managers aren’t trained properly, it’s easy for miscommunications to occur and mistakes to be made. When these cases arise, it’s vital to be prompt and thorough in your inspection. The more time that lapses between the incident and the investigation, the more blurry the specifications get and the higher likelihood you have of missing key details. That being said, simply asking a few questions and making a hasty conclusion just for the sake of wrapping up the issue could be detrimental to your company.  

Make a Plan

The first step to conducting internal investigations is formulating a plan. Some of the decisions you’ll need to make include who will do the investigating, who needs to be interviewed, what evidence needs to be collected, and what the ultimate purpose of the inquiry is. When those decisions are made, gather any and all physical evidence before you begin the questioning. From this point on the method of analysis will vary widely depending on the incident. However, regardless of what type of investigation you’re conducting, it’s important to avoid being aggressive in your questioning. This will only put your colleagues on edge and is more likely to produce biased answers. 

Be Objective

As human beings, it’s difficult to not let emotions factor into our general judgement of others. If you’re investigating a harassment claim, and the accused party typically puts on an aggressive front to his or her colleagues, it’s easy to consider the case basically closed without asking too many questions. However, regardless of how black-and-white the situation might seem at first glance, it’s important to remember that situations are often more complicated than they appear. Even if the suspected perpetrator is your least favorite person on the planet, it’s your job to give them the benefit of the doubt and conduct the investigation as normal.

Reach a Conclusion

The ultimate goal of the investigation is to determine whether or not company policies were violated. Unlike a criminal trial, where prosecutors must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that an incident occurred, standard workplace investigations can be judged based off of “the preponderance of the evidence.” Essentially this means you and your HR professionals can determine whether or not it is more likely that the incident took place after careful consideration of all evidence you’ve gathered. 

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