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Workplace Investigation Principles — Remember Dignity and End with Grace

Jul 2, 2012
Deb Muller

Investigations in the workplace are often as unpleasant for the human resources employee who is investigating as for the person being investigated. I’ve found that by maintaining a few foundational principles, workplace investigations can reduce the risk of litigation and compliment instead of erode employee relations. Let’s explore a few of those areas.

  1. Dignity is key – for everyone involved in the investigation. Remember that investigations should come with no foregone conclusions attached, and that everyone, no matter the reason for the investigation, is entitled to be treated with dignity. When other employees recognize the care shown for all involved, healthy relations can be maintained.
  2. Scope it out before you start. Investigation case management can quickly slide down a slippery slope. Sometimes, expanding the scope of an internal investigation becomes necessary, but at other times, an expanded scope detracts from the original cause for investigation. At the outset, define the scope of the investigation and discuss any expansions in scope with stakeholders, if necessary. It may be useful to rely on case management software to not only manage scope but also methodically move through the stages of investigation.
  3. Timely investigations are good investigations. Conducting workplace investigations is serious business and should be concluded in due time. How long is that? The easy and extremely non-specific answer is that every case will likely have a different timeline. Out of respect for everyone involved, take care not to rush through the process – but also take care not to keep people hanging for too long, as that can diminish the effect of your employee relations strategies.
  4. Documentation is vital. Every step taken, every employee interviewed, every document received, and discussions or decisions – all aspects of investigations must be documented. Employee relations software can be very useful in this regard – instead of figuring out a documentation protocol from scratch, ready-made software can take care of that aspect so investigations can continue in a timely manner. In cases that may lead to litigation, record keeping is also vital to preserve the integrity of the investigation and have all of the evidence necessary to proceed.
  5. Say goodbye with grace. If the outcome of an investigation leads to an employee’s dismissal, it’s important to say goodbye with grace and to allow the employee the opportunity to say goodbye to their coworkers. This is another occasion for dignity. Obviously, an exception to a graceful exit would be wrongdoing so egregious that it’s simply not possible. That tends to be a rarity in dismissals, however. On the employee’s last day or as soon after their departure as possible, ask them to participate in an exit interview survey or exit interview questionnaire or interview. Even the worst former employee can provide insight into operations within an organization. This is an opportunity for learning and potentially mitigating risk associated with employee misconduct in the future.


Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, employee relations case management and investigations software that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.

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