When the decision is reached to conduct an investigation, several processes are activated. The HR Professional in the role of Investigator is responsible for, among other things, collecting and securing any/all relevant information that leads to an objective conclusion.
You’d be surprised how often this becomes a detrimental, and costly, risk to organizations. And not necessarily because of tampered evidence – but because your HR team isn’t properly storing the information in a trusted, secure place within the office—or at all.
We recently surveyed 74 businesses representing over 870,000 employees, finding that risky trends in storage are apparent in over 50% of organizations. That’s not good—especially because when documentation and evidence gets lost in the fray, the whole investigation can go out the window. And that means no outcome, lost money, and a HR professional whose valuable time has now been wasted.
So what are the best practices for HR professionals when collecting and handling documents related to a workplace investigation?
Properly Collecting Workplace Investigation Documents
The lead investigator should first consider which documents are most helpful in getting to the bottom of the matter. These might include emails, personnel files, attendance records, inventories, computer records, sales receipts, work schedules, and more.
Collect Evidence Quickly
Moving an investigation along at a fast pace ensures employees understand the seriousness of employee relations claims. Additionally, swift evidence collection minimizes the time an involved party has to potentially tamper or destroy important documents.
While gathering evidence, investigators should ask themselves the following questions to determine whether they have sufficient documentation of events to reach an objective decision.
Are the Documents Credible?
Evidence can be tampered with. It’s up to the investigator to ensure that everything collected has been verified as credible. In some cases it may be necessary to work with your internal I.T. department to find out when an email was created, sent, who opened it, if it was responded to, and if it was altered.
Do the Documents Tell the Whole Story?
With so much to do, it’s easy to overlook an obvious gap that might exist in email trails. Check the dates, times, and responses. Do they all match up? Do they tell the whole story? Does something seem missing? If there’s doubt, have I.T. pull specific emails.
Will the Misconduct Potentially Lead to Litigation / Termination?
If the misconduct is a terminable offense, or if it has potential to lead to litigation, it’s best to have an outside source, like a data forensic team, collect documents.
A data forensic team protects businesses from issues related to:
- Biases in Investigation
- Incomplete or Nonexistent Chain of Custody
- Expert Credibility
- Business Disruption
Likewise, a data forensic team has expertise that a typical I.T. department won’t have for preserving data as well as gaining information from a hard drive for court presentation.
Properly Storing Workplace Investigation Documents
Documents related to an investigation should never sit idly on a desk or within an investigator’s drawer. Poorly secured evidence can be read by passing employees, calling into question the objectivity of the investigation. Likewise, loose or poorly secured documents are easily whisked from a desk by gusts of wind or plucked by sticky fingers.
All HR leaders and supervisors should know where investigation documents are stored. This centralized secure place should only be accessible to management and investigators, kept under lock and key.
Utilizing a centralized electronic repository keeps documents safe; limiting access to specific HR leaders, Professionals in the role of Investigator, and other “need to know” parties. Additionally, pertinent documents can be easily searched, retrieved, and copied.
Important documents are crucial in protecting a business from liability, and their whereabouts should be known regardless of turnover or attrition.
Document Any Handling of Evidence
If a court appearance is necessary, investigators may have to prove that documents weren’t altered in any way. Keeping precise documentation of the chain of custody is best practice to ensure company compliance.
To make sure all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted, investigators must document the time when a document was obtained, who it was obtained from, where it was obtained, and why it is important to the investigation.
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, a technology solution that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world. Be proactive. Manage risk. Create a safer workplace.