Legal & HR

Investigations by HR are crucial for settling disputes at work. In order to show employees that you care about their well-being and that you want to establish a safe work environment for everyone, an organization needs an HR investigative procedure before anything happens.

How to conduct a fair HR investigation

A consistent procedure with clearly defined phases must be in place if you wish to carry out fair, impartial HR investigations. Let's examine what these actions would entail in real life.

1. Take the necessary action immediately

HR may occasionally need to respond right away to protect the accuser or the complainant depending on the specifics of the accusation. For instance, if the complainant and the accused work closely together, you might need to temporarily suspend them both until the investigation is complete, modify their work schedules, or remove them from the other employees involved in the complaint.

Particularly, claims of harassment or sexual harassment need to be handled quickly but discretely. It is crucial to remember that not all the information is available at this point in the process, therefore any actions done must not be viewed as the final judgment.

2. Decide who will investigate & who will decide

An investigator must be chosen to head the investigation. This could be a member of the internal HR team or a legal advisor, but they cannot be connected to either the complainant or the accused. It is crucial that the investigator operate impartially and equitably in order to gather the relevant evidence.

Some businesses will already have a list of suitably qualified investigators available so they can start looking into complaints as soon as they are made. Other companies will use outside investigators to assist them, particularly when the issue is more complicated or includes senior workers.

The person who investigates what happened shouldn't also be the one who decides on a punishment. This is done to dispel any notion that an investigation's findings were predetermined. Decide who will make the decisions, so do that before you begin your inquiry. Typically, this is an internal HR expert or a legal representative who, once more, is unfamiliar with either the accused or the complainant.

3. Make a plan for the investigation

To determine whether the complaint is true, the investigator must first draught an investigative strategy. This will include a description of the issue(s), a list of witnesses to be contacted, evidence that must be gathered and examined, workplace policies or processes, legal records, and a rough estimate of the investigation period.

Additionally, they will need to comprehend what information is needed and what is missing from the case. The investigator must also let the employee under investigation know why they are being investigated, what will happen during the investigation and any potential future actions.

Never forget that maintaining anonymity is crucial when carrying out a workplace investigation.

4. Ask the right questions in the interviews

Interviews with the accused employee, the complainant, and any witnesses are required. To acquire pertinent facts and specifics regarding the occurrences, prepare target interview questions in advance. You can utilize a few different interview question models during the investigative interview procedure to uncover the facts. Here are a few instances:

Some examples of questions are:

  • What was the date, time, length, or behavior of the incident?
  • There was any physical contact? Could you explain it? Can you give an example?
  • Do you own any hard copies of the incident's documentation (emails, notes, recordings, etc.)?
  • Do you know why someone might fabricate or tell a lie about the events?
  • What conditions existed prior to the incident?
  • You can request written statements from the people involved in addition to conducting interviews to get their perspective on the matter. Make sure to be specific about the information that should be in such a written statement.

5. Document the findings of your investigation

Due to the need for both physical and digital evidence, as well as witnesses, gathering information and documentation will take up the most time during the inquiry. Both physical and digital evidence must be validated and kept in a secure location. All physical evidence must be kept in a safe place. It is possible to keep everything secure, private, and organized with the use of digital solutions, such as HR case management systems.

Every phase of the investigation needs to be documented. The final investigation report includes a summary of all the interviews, evidence, and findings, as well as suggested next steps. It is significant to emphasize that the investigator only bases recommendations on the outcomes of the evidence. They don't decide what punishments to impose.

6. Communicate the results of the investigation

The investigator will share the report with the appropriate decision-maker and the impacted parties as soon as it is finished. Many companies have policies governing who gets to know what about investigations and what information involved personnel are entitled to. Sometimes the conclusions are presented to the employees in a "Executive Summary," but the witness statements are not disclosed in great detail. To safeguard the rights and privacy of all affected is done.

7. Find the way forward

You need to decide what to do next after your HR investigation is over. The decision-maker will explain their choice to the accuser, along with the disciplinary measures the company will implement. Your team may view the disciplinary meeting as a chance to provide goal-focused feedback rather than remedial action, depending on the reason for the investigation.

The decision-maker can create a performance improvement plan with the employee where all parties concur on an action plan and deadline. The decision-maker must also inform the employee in full of the repercussions of breaking the program.