Guidelines for Conducting a Workplace Investigation

Blog Post by Anna M. Pepelnjak

Conducting a satisfactory internal investigation following receipt of a workplace complaint has been called the “gift that keeps on giving”. Not only will a thorough and professional investigation resolve the problem at hand, it also forms the basis for a strong defense against a future complaint.

Should you need to conduct an investigation regarding a workplace complaint, here are some guidelines to follow:

  1. Investigate Without Delay: Commence your investigation within 24-48 hours (excluding non-business days) of receiving the complaint. If you are not able to do so, document the reason for the delay – and make sure the reason is adequate.
  2. Diligence: Prepare your questions in advance.   Select the investigator and outline your investigation plan carefully. Identify and collect all potential evidentiary items and interview all witnesses who have knowledge of the events.
  3. Accuracy: Keep truthful records. You may wish to have interviewees sign off on notes or written statements.
  4. Focus:  To the extent possible, stick to the purpose of the investigation. Do not stray beyond that required by business necessity, unless significant developments reveal separate grounds requiring their own investigation.
  5. Confidentiality:  Because many of these investigations involve sensitive information which, if made public, could have significant consequences, confidentiality is of utmost importance. Discuss the investigation only with those who need to know. At the same time, while making every effort to maintain confidentiality, advise interviewees that inadvertent breaches of confidentiality may occur.
  6. Documentation: Take thorough, detailed notes or audio or video recordings.  Write a report reflecting your findings and conclusions.
  7. Corrective Action: Corrective action should be reasonable under the circumstances. It must be sufficient to show your commitment to a responsive working environment while maintaining balance and good sense.
  8. Policies: Follow all provisions in your policies, manuals, handbooks, collective bargaining agreements or employment contracts are followed.

Upon concluding the investigation, you should continue to monitor the situation that gave rise to the complaint. In addition, bear in mind that, if the complaint involved protected status discrimination, the complaining employee is protected from retaliation. Consulting an attorney who is well-versed in employment law is the best way to protect your business in these situations.

Disclaimer

The comments and opinions expressed in this blog are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Reading or using the information in this blog does not create the existence of an attorney-client privilege. Due to the changing nature of the law, the blog posts may contain dated material. For an update on the current law and the application of the law to your particular facts and circumstances, consult a legal advisor. The information contained herein is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified attorney licensed in your state.