Workplace Investigations: Steps and Strategiesachkarlaw-admin
Employers and human resource managers often come to us with questions regarding workplace investigations. Many want to know how to conduct a proper investigation.
Conducted properly, investigations can yield the facts necessary to make an informed decision regarding policy or disciplinary decisions.
What Is a Workplace Investigation?
A workplace investigation is a formal process conducted by an employer or a designated investigator to gather facts and information about a specific incident or concern within the workplace. The primary goals of a workplace investigation are to:
- Determine the facts: The investigation aims to establish what happened, who was involved, and any relevant details surrounding the incident or issue.
- Assess compliance: Investigations are often carried out to determine if any workplace policies, procedures, or legal regulations have been violated. Common issues investigated include harassment, discrimination, misconduct, theft, safety violations, and more.
- Maintain a fair and safe workplace: The ultimate objective of a workplace investigation is to ensure that the workplace remains safe, respectful, and conducive to productive work for all employees.
- Facilitate resolution: Depending on the findings, a workplace investigation may lead to actions such as disciplinary measures, remediation, conflict resolution, or changes in workplace policies to prevent similar issues in the future.
Workplace investigations typically involve interviewing relevant parties, collecting evidence, reviewing documentation, and maintaining confidentiality as appropriate. The process should be impartial and thorough to ensure fairness and compliance with legal requirements.
Workplace Investigation Process
A workplace investigation typically involves several key steps to ensure a thorough and fair process. Here are the general steps involved:
1. Receive a Complaint or Report
The investigation usually begins when an employee or a third party reports an issue or complaint to the appropriate person within the organization, such as HR, a supervisor, or a designated investigator.
2. Determine the Scope
The investigator or HR professional assesses the nature and scope of the complaint to understand the specific issues involved and the potential violations of company policies or laws.
3. Select an Investigator
An impartial investigator is appointed to conduct the investigation. This person should have the necessary training and experience to handle the particular issue.
4. Notify All Parties
All relevant parties, including the complainant, the accused, witnesses, and any other individuals involved, are informed about the investigation and their roles in the process. Confidentiality is emphasized.
5. Gather Evidence
The investigator collects relevant evidence, which may include documents, emails, security footage, and interviews with involved parties and witnesses. It’s crucial to maintain a detailed record of all evidence and interviews.
6. Interview Parties
The investigator conducts interviews with the complainant, the accused, witnesses, and any other individuals with information related to the case. These interviews should be conducted impartially and with sensitivity.
7. Review Documentation
Relevant documents, such as policies, procedures, personnel files, and any other relevant records, are reviewed to assess compliance and context.
8. Analyze Evidence
The investigator analyzes the gathered evidence and information to determine the facts of the case, evaluate the credibility of witnesses, and identify any policy or legal violations.
9. Make Findings
Based on the evidence and analysis, the investigator makes findings regarding whether there were policy violations or other wrongdoing. These findings should be documented in a report.
If policy violations or wrongdoing are found, the investigator may make recommendations for appropriate actions, such as disciplinary measures, training, or changes in workplace policies.
11. Report and Conclusion
A final investigation report is prepared, summarizing the findings, recommendations, and any corrective actions to be taken. This report is usually provided to the appropriate parties, including HR and management.
12. Take Action
Based on the findings and recommendations, the organization takes appropriate actions, which may include disciplinary actions, conflict resolution, training, or policy revisions.
In some cases, follow-up may be necessary to ensure that the recommended actions are implemented and that the workplace remains free from similar issues.
Throughout the entire process, it’s essential to maintain confidentiality to the extent possible, ensure fairness, and comply with applicable laws and regulations. Additionally, organizations should keep thorough records of the investigation for legal and compliance purposes.
One of the more common applications of a workplace investigation is to establish the facts in situations involving severe misconduct, such as workplace violence, sexual harassment, or theft. In these instances, conducting an impartial investigation of the complaint and acting on the conclusions can help settle the issue and convey that the organization takes the concern seriously. It can also help limit the company’s vicarious liability should the alleged misconduct lead to legal proceedings.
While an employer might be wondering when an investigation should be conducted—sometime statute will provide no choice, and will mandate employers investigate certain complaints. To make sure they are complying with the law, employers must know what those circumstances are and whether their employee’s complaint falls within a circumstance where an investigation is necessary.
Although employers may have good intentions in conducting their investigations, a flawed investigation can be costly.
Choosing an investigator who is ill-equipped, has a personal relationship with the parties, asks inappropriate questions, does not permit the interviewee to respond, ignores confidentiality, or formulates their conclusions incorrectly can lead to additional damages should the investigation lead to an employee’s wrongful dismissal.
On the same side of the coin, using a shoddy investigation as a means of justify a dismissal can also land an employer in trouble.
The choice of investigator, whether internal staff or an independent third party, depends on the nature of the situation. Some situations will require an independent third party where using internal staff will create a conflict of interest or where bias may occur.
Regardless of who is conducting the investigation, for the results to be of any use, ensure that the investigation is thorough, well-documented, and objective. Additionally, employers should ensure steps are taken to protect the privacy and confidentiality of those involved.
If you are an employer seeking information as to your legal obligations and best practices regarding investigations, or an employee wanting to know your rights regarding workplace investigations, our team of experienced employment lawyers at Achkar Law can help.
- Workplace Investigations: When Are They Necessary?
- Sexual Harassment: Workplace Investigations In The Remote Work Space
- Workplace Investigations And Employee Rights In Ontario