Workplace investigations are an important process when it comes to alleged misconduct in the workplace – and conducting a proper investigation can make all of the difference. As an employer, conducting an improper investigation into a report, accusation or claim of misconduct can expose your organization to increased liability or open the door to additional complaints. Furthermore, any decisions made by the employer (whether disciplinary or other) based on a poorly conducted investigation can be at risk.
There are many aspects that go into ensuring that a workplace investigation is carried out properly. Employers must ensure that they follow a process that is procedurally fair for all parties involved. The investigation must take into account all relevant facts, information, and circumstances before rendering any findings and enforcing discipline on an alleged perpetrator. Ensuring that the investigation is completed in a timely manner, with the involvement of all relevant parties (this includes both alleged perpetrator and the complainant) and the collection of the appropriate evidence and documentation is essential.
Employers and their HR teams are often equipped to conduct basic investigations into non-complex matters. However, for more complicated and sensitive matters it is often wise to engage the services of external experts. In most instances, workplace investigations are required in cases of alleged  harassment, violence, theft or other forms of fraud. Given the complexity and sensitivity of these types of matters, it is sound practice to engage the services of an external provider to help ensure that the investigation is conducted impartially, without bias, and in a manner which respects the privacy rights of both the accuser and the alleged perpetrator.
When the decision to investigate has been made, an employer should consider each of the following steps as they look to move forward:
Who Will Investigate
Thought should be given as to whether the matter should be investigated in-house or through the use of an external expert. Will there be a real or perceived bias if investigated internally? Is a specific skill set needed to conduct the investigation? Additionally, consideration may need to be given to the gender of the investigator depending on the nature of the investigation.
The Scope Of Workplace Investigations
What needs to be investigated? Who will need to be involved and interview video conference station should be requested and reviewed?
Scheduling & Conducting Interviews
In what order should the interviews take place? Where should the interviews occur? Can they be conducted in-person or by phone, video conference or other? What are the appropriate and necessary questions that are to be asked of each interviewee? How will the interviews be documented or recorded?
Gathering & Reviewing The Evidence
How is the evidence gathered? Can it be authenticated? Where is it stored or maintained? How much weight should be given to certain evidence?
Writing The Report & Conclusions
Has each of the steps been documented? Is the report written in a clear and accurate manner? Who is the audience? Have the results been shared with all parties? Does the evidence support the conclusion(s)? What actions may be recommended?
Have any gaps or risks been identified through the investigation? Are there trends that have been observed? Was there any missing data or information that would be helpful if presented with a similar situation in the future?
If you require any assistance with workplace investigations, let the Employment Lawyers at Hummingbird Lawyers guide you through the process. Whether you have a simple question or require an external investigator to spearhead the investigation process, we have the expertise to assist you and your organization.
References and Footnotes
- Hummingbird Employment Law Article; Workplace Harassment And Bullying ↩