We recently completed a successful training on effective and legal workplace investigations. During the recording of our next podcast for Upstate HR, we also discussed workplace investigations and the importance of proactive investigatory processes. Throughout my career, many of my experiences have provided valuable insight into the importance of effective and efficient workplace investigations. As leaders, we need to take complaints and investigations seriously, as these issues can escalate into additional problems in the workplace, on social media, and create stress outside of work.
Below are 5 considerations for effective workplace investigations:
- Don’t ignore the issue/complaint. If any employee approaches the organization with a complaint or allegation, we need to take this seriously. Ignoring or hoping the issue goes away or resolves itself is not the right approach; we need to address the underlying issues. Ask questions and ensure you understand the details of the issues/allegations.
- Never assume: Remember, there are two-sides to every story. Do not assume that one party is guilty, because we only hear one-side of the story. In most cases, fact-finding means understanding the entire allegation/situation before making a decision.
- Prepare, Prepare, Prepare: Preparing for the investigation interviews and fact-finding is challenging. What questions do we ask? What information do we need? Who should we talk too? The answer to this is that it depends on the situation. Creating a template or checklist to ensure consistency and accuracy will help in working through the process efficiently and proactively. Ask leading questions that force individuals to answer questions with more information, versus “yes” or “no” answers. The more prepared you are, the more efficient the process will become. Investigations are not easy and questions that are asked will not always be enjoyable for people to answer. I have asked many of these questions throughout my career. Be prepared, and know laws, policies, procedures, contract language, etc. that may be involved or impacted by the investigation.
- Neutrality: This consideration defaults back to consideration #2. Remain neutral throughout the investigation and recommendation process. This takes practice and is not easy in small organizations. If you as a leader feel that neutrality is not practical internally, it is not always a bad idea to bring in a third-party to conduct the investigation and draft a finding of facts. Using a third party all but ensures neutrality throughout the process.
- Closure/Conclusion/Recommendation: Throughout my career, I have seen this final step as the biggest hurdle for many organizations. The investigation is conducted, information is gathered and then nothing happens. Regardless of the outcome or recommended outcomes, the investigation needs to be closed. I’m not suggesting revealing confidential information, but we do need to close the loop of communication with the parties involved. Without proactive communication, we could see increased employee relations issues, decreased employee morale, and potential retaliation issues. This is one of the most important pieces of the investigation process.
We closed out the podcast yesterday on a positive note. Not all workplace investigations are negative or lead to discipline. Workplace investigations are great for process improvement, addressing safety concerns, Six Sigma change, employee engagement, and efficiency. Regardless, we need to take the investigation process seriously and manage it proactively, by reinforcing rules and policies throughout. If you are unclear on how to investigate, ask for assistance or hire a third-party neutral to manage the process for the organization.
– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant
Below are the for upcoming training’s I will be conducting at Elmira College, Corning Community College (CCC), 247 Compliance and Compliance Online (July & August):
Below is a link to our new Podcast Upstate HR:
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