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How to Conduct Workplace Investigations: 10 Important Steps

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  • Leadership & Strategy

How to Conduct Workplace Investigations: 10 Important Steps

Leadership & Strategy

Picture this: An employee reports a complaint. What’s the best way to respond?

When it comes to handling complaints, employers will need a clear process for handling workplace investigations. When faced with almost any workplace complaint or problem, companies can use the following approach to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation.

10 steps for workplace investigations

1. Thank the individual for reporting the concern

First, thank the individual for reporting their concern. Listen carefully to what they have to say, and take notes to document the details. Ensure confidentiality to the extent possible. Explain the next steps in the investigation, and determine your best course of action.

2. Take immediate action when necessary

You might have to jump in right away – even before the investigation is begun – if a situation is volatile or could otherwise cause immediate harm to employees or your business.

3. Choose the investigator carefully

The investigator should be experienced and/or trained in workplace investigations. This person should also be impartial and perceived as impartial by the employees involved, and capable of acting – and, if necessary, testifying in court about the situation.

For serious matters, especially when the accused is in a position of power, you may need to get an outside investigator to handle the matter. When you’re dealing with accusations of discrimination, harassment or assault by company leaders, you want an expert at the table.

4. Plan the investigation

Take time to organize your thoughts and plan your approach. Look at any info you already have about the problem – such as an employee complaint, a supervisor’s report, written warnings, or materials that are part of the problem.

5. Conduct interviews

The most basic way to gather relevant information is by asking people questions. Most investigations involve at least two interviews: one of the employee who was accused and another of the employee who complained. Sometimes, you will also want to interview witnesses.

During these interviews, let the employees do the lion’s share of the talking. Ask open-ended questions. Avoid “why” questions, which can often sound accusatory during an interview.

6. Gather documents and evidence

Every investigation will rely to some extent on documents – personnel files, e-mail messages, company policies, correspondence, and so on. Some investigations will require you to gather other evidence, such as drugs, a weapon, photographs or stolen items.

7. Evaluate the evidence

The most challenging part of many investigations is figuring out what happened. You’ll want to consider, for example, whose story makes the most sense, whose demeanor was more convincing, and who (if anyone) has a motive to deceive.

8. Take appropriate action

Once you decide what happened, you’ll have to figure out what, if anything, to do about it. If you conclude that wrongdoing occurred, you will have to take disciplinary action quickly to avoid legal liability for that employee’s behavior and to protect your organization and other workers from harm. Stress to all parties involved that retaliation is prohibited.

9. Document the investigation

As you’re conducting workplace investigations, you’ll want to create solid documentation as you go. Best practices include documenting all steps taken; dating and signing all documents; and keeping documentation in one central location. Once an investigation is complete, produce an investigation report that explains what you did and why.

10. Follow up

Finally, make sure to follow up with employees after all workplace investigations. You’ll want to check in with them to confirm the problem that led to the investigation has been properly addressed and/or solved. If not, you’ll want to address any remaining concerns.

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