A thorough, timely, objective and concise investigation serves as the foundation for a strong defense should a lawsuit arise. Keep in mind that not all participants in the investigation will be happy with the outcome. The goal, however, is to conduct a fair investigation and ensure all parties are heard. The task is not for the timorous!
Key steps to consider when conducting an employee investigation…
- Ensure Safety
Determine whether there is an immediate danger to the accuser or to the accused. If there is, immediately create separation between them via a leave of absence, change in shifts, or a transfer. Be cautious not to cause adverse impact to either party. Until you have completed your employee investigation, this could appear to be retaliation.
Next, you should determine whether an employee investigation is necessary. Once you’ve decided to move forward, quickly organize your plan of action including who to interview (accuser, accused, witnesses), who is conducting the interview, who should sit in the with interviewer as a witness, timeline for interviews, identifying evidence that must be collected/requested and responses back to the parties involved. Be sure to document all conversations and specific dates. The goal of your documentation is to ensure a court of law agrees the Company made a good faith effort to fairly rectify the situation.
- Remain Objective
This is the most important item in the process. Go into each fact-finding interview with a clear mind and with no bias. Ask questions that are open-ended, do not use leading questions. Follow-up questions should be based on collecting and clarifying facts only. Ensure all parties that you are speaking to everyone involved and your goal is to collect facts at this point. Communicate that you will follow up with the accuser and accused when your investigation is complete.
Use your EQ (emotional intelligence) to make each interviewee comfortable answering questions. Obtaining additional statements is critical to substantiate allegations in situations of he said/she said.
Many times, you will rely on your own judgment to determine the credibility and plausibility of all involved.
- Be timely
Ignoring or delaying an employee investigation causes several issues: First, it says to employees that you are not taking the situation seriously. Second, memories fade as time passes. The likelihood of details being forgotten or becoming hazy increases as time passes.
- Reference your Company Policy and Federal/State Laws
To make a solid determination, it is important to identify the policy or law that was violated. When you summarize your findings, you should clearly communicate why you made the determination and took the action you did.
- Maintain Confidentiality When Possible
While you cannot guarantee 100% confidentiality, it is important to assure the involved parties that you will keep this as confidential as possible. You should also communicate to those involved that they should not speak to anyone else in the company about the open investigation.
- Finalize Your Findings and Follow Up
Consult with an attorney if needed. Finally, close your employee investigation, then prepare your summary and recommendation in writing. When the final decision has been made, meet with the accuser and accused individually to communicate your decision. Assure them the Company took the complaint seriously and conducted a thorough investigation. While not all parties will agree with your decision, it is important to reference the Company policy or Law that was/was not violated. It is also possible that your investigation may result in an inconclusive determination. In either case, ensure you have considered any damages the parties may have suffered and determine whether it would be in the Company’s best interest to remedy those damages. Last, follow up on the situation several times to ensure no further action is needed, that all parties are safe and are productive following the incident.