HR professionals in the role of Investigator are under enormous pressure: by concerned employees asking for case updates and by management looking to quickly conclude the investigation and move on. For HR professionals, focus-in-conflict between employees included in the investigation and leadership appeasement can be detrimental to the investigation’s outcome.
Workplace investigations aren’t to be approached with a fly-by-night attitude, nor should they be analyzed through the lens of management’s desired outcome.
How Do You Conduct a Timely Workplace Investigation?
Train Investigators Prior to Handling Cases
First and foremost, HR professionals in the role of Investigators must be trained prior to taking on the many responsibilities the role assumes. An investigator should be prepared to handle cases as soon as they’re learned about to more efficiently come to a conclusion.
Training leaders to fill the role of Investigator will pay dividends.
Plan a Course of Action
Once an allegation is made, it is critical to take a breath and consider how to best approach the fact-finding. What documents should an investigator examine? What information is pertinent to the investigation? With whom should they speak? When will you speak with them? Plan what is needed and then take proactive steps to collect evidence and begin interviews.
Employees may become frustrated by the length of an investigation.
If employees ask for information regarding an open case, HR professionals must keep confidential information, including who they are interviewing, to themselves. However, lines of communication should remain open throughout the investigation.
The HR professional should proactively stay in touch with involved employees to ensure they know their issue has been taken seriously—and ease nerves regarding longer investigations. The HR professional in the role of Investigator should touch base to field questions the employee has or to ask follow-up questions.
Keep Procedures Clearly Documented
Keeping investigation procedures consistent among investigators in your organization can reap benefits specifically making it easier for an investigator to review closed cases with similar issues. While each workplace investigation is unique, HR professionals may be able to leverage the good work from a proven process of prior investigators to help guide the current investigation.
Investigative consistency protects the organization from legal adversity. Previous cases present ideas to current Investigator on how the current investigation should be approached. What documents did they retrieve? With whom did they speak? What was the outcome?
Our own 2016 Employee Relations Benchmark Study found that over 45% of organizations now use some form of an employee relations management solution or case management system, providing clear and organized documentation.
With prior caseloads securely stored and appropriately accessed by leadership and HR professionals, a timely workplace investigation can be accomplished using a repeatable process.
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.