Employers should already be familiar with the process of conducting a workplace investigation because the hiring process is in itself an investigation of sorts.
HR professionals have to do some detective work by gathering evidence and conducting interviews before determining whether or not a candidate is right for the job. Yet there are other times when the detective work HR professionals have to conduct is more like the work of actual detectives. In those cases, it’s important for HR professionals and employers to have a clear understanding of what is required of them and the best practices they need to follow. Because HR professionals can spend as much as 60 percent of their time working to resolve workplace disputes, being able to conduct a workplace investigation with professionalism is extremely important.
Whether the investigation is triggered by the suspicion of drug use by an employee, an accusation of sexual misconduct, an infraction of company rules or anything else, proper handling of that investigation can make a world of difference for any employer. In most cases, improper handling of a workplace investigation can expose a company to more serious damage than the inciting incident and greater liability.
That’s why workplace investigations have to be conducted using the proper framework and with the full commitment of everyone involved. The investigation should begin with an evaluation of whether or not it should be handled in-house or through an independent investigator. If it is determined that the investigation will be dealt with internally, the HR professionals in charge of the investigation must collect evidence. That evidence includes interviews with all of the involved parties and any potential witnesses, as well as any relevant documentation such as emails or personnel files.
After all of the evidence has been gathered, the investigation must evaluate it to determine exactly what happened, whether or not it violated company policy or the law, and who is at fault. Finally, the company should take appropriate action based on the results of the investigation — whether it is changing company policy, terminating an employee or turning the matter over to law enforcement.
During the investigation process, it is of paramount importance that the investigators conduct their work while remaining transparent about it at all times. Frequently, the biggest mistake made by HR professionals while conducting a workplace investigation is failing to keep all involved parties up to date concerning the investigation’s process. This may lead complaining parties to feel their concerns are being ignored by the company. Complaining parties may seek outside counsel from an attorney, which can make the company vulnerable to more liability.
Internal investigations within a workplace need to be handled delicately and with complete professionalism by HR representatives.
The following guide designed by our friends at Arkus Investigators, outlines the main steps HR professionals need to take to ensure their investigations are completed properly and without risk of further liability.