HR Acuity Logo
NEW DATA: 2023 Workplace Harassment & Employee Misconduct Insights

Workplace Investigations: What They Are and How To Do Them Successfully

Mar 14, 2023
HR Acuity
workplace investigations

In today’s fast-paced business world, where employees are increasingly aware of their rights, and employers are under constant scrutiny, conducting a workplace investigation has become a critical tool for maintaining a healthy workplace culture.

A workplace investigation can have far-reaching implications on an organization, from ensuring compliance with legal requirements to improving employee morale and engagement. According to a study by the Ethics & Compliance Initiative, retaliation is a growing concern for management teams, putting intense pressure on employee relations (ER) departments to quickly resolve employee complaints and grievances. Retaliation against employees who have reported misconduct has increased by 35% in three years; from 44% in 2017 to 79% in 2020. Since retaliation can be linked to improper and inadequate workplace investigations, handling them appropriately is essential for a healthy workplace culture.

This is where employee relations software and case management solutions, such as those offered by HR Acuity, can provide a significant advantage. In this article, we’ll explore the key steps and best practices for conducting a workplace investigation, the importance of effective communication and follow-up and the benefits of using technology to manage the entire process. Read on to gain valuable insights and strategies for upholding a productive and compliant workplace with the help of better investigations.

Workplace Investigation Basics

Workplace investigations are an essential part of maintaining a safe and respectful environment for employees. Investigations can be initiated for various reasons, such as harassment, discrimination, employee misconduct and violations of company policies. In the US, when an employer becomes aware of an incident that requires attention, they are legally obligated to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation.

A workplace investigation involves gathering information and evidence to determine whether an employee has violated a policy or engaged in inappropriate behavior. Whether it is a simple verbal discussion with employees or a more complex investigation, the employee relations team needs to ensure that the company remains compliant with employment laws, labor relations and internal policies throughout the entire process. 

There are several types of workplace investigations, including examinations into:

Discrimination: Focusing on allegations based on legally-protected factors such as race, gender, age, religion or disability. 

Harassment: Involving instances of harassment, bullying or other inappropriate behavior. 

Fraud and theft: Examining cases of theft or fraud against the company.

Workplace investigations teams can vary.  The team may include human resources or employee relations representatives, managers and legal counsel. The discovery and inspection process can vary depending on the type of inquiry and the complexity of the situation. However, investigations should always be conducted thoroughly and impartially with an emphasis on staying compliant with employment laws and labor relations.

Investigations should be completed as promptly as possible to minimize any potential harm to employees and the company. However, the length of a workplace investigation can also vary depending on the nature of the issue. Some cases can be resolved quickly, while others may take several weeks or even months to complete.

Download the Employee Relations Playbook

Everything you need to know from
Allegation to Aftercare.

When To Do a Workplace Investigation

Not every office scuffle or misunderstanding warrants a formal workplace investigation. In many cases, the problem can be resolved through a simple conversation with the offending employee. However, Gartner reports that 60% of misconduct observed in the workplace goes unreported. The lack of reporting could be a signal that employees don’t feel safe reporting. Fear of reporting is all the more reason to invest in better investigations. Reporting improves when employees feel like they will be heard and that issues will be resolved in a fair and timely manner. This is especially true if a problem is significant, the involved parties provide contradictions or there is a high risk of violence or retaliation. 

As a rule of thumb, investigations should always happen when:

A formal complaint is filed.

One trigger for a workplace investigation may be a formal complaint or allegation made by an employee. In other cases, an investigation may be necessary due to concerns raised by management, HR or other employees. It’s important for employers to take all complaints seriously and investigate them promptly and thoroughly to ensure a safe and respectful workplace for all.

Employee rights are an important consideration in any workplace investigation. Under the employment contract, workers have the right to a workplace that is free from harassment and discrimination based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, religion or disability. They also have the liberty to file a complaint if they feel their rights have been violated, without fear of retaliation. Employers must ensure that they’re following all applicable laws and regulations when conducting an investigation.

A workplace policy is violated.

Workplace policies regarding violations can also play a role in determining when a workplace investigation is necessary. Companies should have clear expectations for reporting and investigating allegations of misconduct or policy violations and should confirm that all employees are aware of these policies and understand that failure to follow them can result in disciplinary action or termination.

Best Practices for Conducting a Successful Investigation

Conducting a workplace investigation requires careful planning and execution to ensure that all relevant information is collected and analyzed objectively.

The first step is to establish the scope of the investigation. This involves:

  • Defining the specific issue or incident being investigated, including which policy or policies may have been violated.
  • Identifying the parties involved and determining the timeframe of the examination.
  • Gathering as much information as possible about the incident, including where and when it occurred, who witnessed it and any relevant documents or electronic communications or records.

Once the scope of the investigation has been established, the next step is to identify potential witnesses and sources of evidence. This may include:

  • Interviewing employees.
  • Reviewing documents and emails.
  • Analyzing data from electronic devices.

From there, an investigation team can begin to examine the information collected. Therefore, it’s important to use an ER analytical tool or old-fashioned problem-solving skills to identify answers to these questions:

  • What are the key facts or evidence that prove a company policy or law has been broken?
  • How credible and reliable is the information?
  • Are there any conflicts of interest or biases that may skew the investigation?
  • What actions or behavior most likely occurred?
  • Who is most likely responsible for the incident based on this evidence?
  • What is the potential impact of the incident on the company and various other stakeholders? What impact will the decision to discipline or terminate an employee have?
  • What legal responsibilities need to be addressed?

Employee relations should also follow multiple best practices when conducting a workplace investigation, such as the following:

Maintain confidentiality and transparency

It’s important to maintain confidentiality throughout the investigation. Only share information on a need-to-know basis. Simultaneously, communication and transparency are key to conducting a successful investigation. Transparency helps employees feel comfortable providing honest information and in turn protects morale and engagement. 

Use a consistent approach

During the investigation process, it’s vital to follow best practices for interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence. Using the same method each time provides fairness and equal treatment while avoiding biases. Investigators should be trained in interviewing techniques and use open-ended questions to encourage witnesses to provide detailed and accurate information. 

Prioritize respect and dignity for all

It doesn’t matter whether the investigator has ample evidence that one person is guilty or not. In all cases, it’s essential to treat employees with respect and dignity and to defend the integrity of the investigation process. Discovering the truth is important, but so is protecting the rights of all involved parties. 

Document everything

It’s critical to document all interviews and evidence collected to ensure that there is a clear record of the investigation process. These documents can be used to review the investigation and provide valuable insights into how it was conducted and who is involved. It can be particularly useful when demonstrating due diligence and presenting findings to stakeholders. 

In some cases, employees may refuse to cooperate with an investigation. This can make it difficult to gather all the information needed to make an informed decision. If someone refuses to be interviewed or otherwise cooperate with the case, employee relations may need to consider disciplinary action or termination, depending on the circumstances.

What To Do Once the Investigation Has Concluded

After the workplace investigation is complete and all the evidence has been looked at, the necessary people need to decide what the ideal solution is. Depending on the nature and severity of the findings, there can be several possible outcomes. Some common consequences include disciplinary action, termination of employment, reassignment of duties, training or coaching, or even a change in workplace policies and procedures.

During this process, management, including ER and HR, must respect the employees’ rights, particularly if they’re found to be innocent of any wrongdoing. For example, if an employee is falsely accused of misconduct, the employer should take steps to clear their name and ensure that their reputation isn’t tarnished. In some cases, this may even involve compensation for any harm or damages suffered as a result of the investigation.

The outcome of the investigation must also be communicated to all parties involved, including the complainant, accused and witnesses. Managers must be careful to communicate the findings in a clear and sensitive manner, without revealing any confidential information or violating any privacy laws. They must also be prepared to answer any questions or concerns that may arise from the investigation, particularly from employees who may be impacted by the outcome.

The results of a workplace investigation may possibly lead to litigation, especially if the complainant or accused feels that their rights have been violated or that the employer has acted unfairly. In these situations, it may be necessary to seek legal counsel of your own.

See HR Acuity's Solutions in Action

Discover why HR Acuity is the preferred employee relations management software.

Every Successful Investigation Starts With Employee Relations Software 

Workplace investigations can be complex and sensitive matters that require careful management and documentation. This is where employee relations software and case management solutions can be invaluable. HR Acuity offers a range of tools and features designed to help organizations effectively manage workplace investigations and employee relations.

So, why should organizations rely on employee relations software? Firstly, these tools can help streamline the investigation process, ensuring that all necessary steps are taken and documentation is properly recorded. This can save time and reduce the risk of errors or omissions.

In addition, these platforms can help ensure consistency from start to finish. With clear protocols and workflows in place, companies can ensure that all investigations are conducted in a fair and consistent manner, regardless of who’s involved. This helps create trust in the HR team throughout the organization.

With the ability to generate detailed reports and analytics, ER can identify trends and patterns across different workplace issues, enabling them to take proactive steps to address underlying problems.

HR Acuity’s case management solutions bring a range of features to support organizations of all sizes and purposes. For example, the software allows for secure and confidential investigations, ensuring that sensitive information is protected at all times. We also offer customizable templates and workflows, enabling organizations to tailor their investigation processes to their specific needs.

With the increasing recognition and importance of technology in this area, it’s essential for organizations to invest in reliable and effective solutions that will enable them to meet all their ER needs. 

Book your demo today.

HR Acuity

More Articles on Workplace Investigations