An improper workplace investigation can have monetary and emotional consequences. Learn what can happen and 7 best practices when you have to conduct a workplace investigation.
According to Statistics Canada, 19% of women and 13% of men report having experienced harassment in their workplace. This is just one of many reasons someone may register a complaint in the workplace.
Harassment claims, allegations of drug and alcohol use, theft, threats, or violence are all reasons someone might allege employee misconduct. With these kinds of complaints, it is critical that any employer take the allegations seriously and conduct a thorough and careful investigation – or risk the consequences of an improper workplace investigation.
It may be helpful to hire an external investigator to limit liability and ensure a fair and unbiased investigation process. If you do this, do your research. Pick someone who specializes in workplace investigations like the specialists at Bridge Legal & HR.
Consequences of an Improper Workplace Investigation
Failing to properly conduct a workplace investigation after allegations arise can have dire consequences. They may include:
- Ongoing legal proceedings from employees who feel wronged;
- Having to pay thousands of dollars in damages;
- Having to cover back pay for employees;
- Having to reinstate employees who were fired following an investigation; and
- Decreased morale among employees and decreased trust in the employer.
For these reasons, it is important to be aware of best practices to avoid the consequences of an improper workplace investigation.
Best Practices For A Workplace Investigation
Cover your bases! Follow these seven best practices when your organization has to investigate a harassment claim in the workplace to reduce your liability.
1. Keep in Mind the Objective of the Investigation
One of the foundational best practices of a workplace investigation is to keep the objective of the investigation in mind. The goal of the inquiry is to make factual findings and reach a conclusion. You do this by:
- Conducting interviews with parties and witnesses;
- Gathering other key information by reviewing documentation and other important evidence outside of interviews; and
- Analyzing the evidence gathered to determine whether internal policies and/or relevant legislation have been violated.
2. Select the Investigator Wisely
It is important to select an investigator who is skilled and unbiased. In addition, they should be trained in conducting workplace investigations and not influenced by the workplace’s hierarchy. These criteria ensure that even if the investigation leads to a person of power – like the CEO – the investigation will proceed properly. The seasoned lawyers at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions offer workplace investigations and provide in-house investigators with workplace investigation guidance.
3. Have Policies and Procedures in Place
Every organization must have policies and procedures that outline workplace investigation protocol. These can include stipulations around who may conduct an investigation, timelines around the investigation, when and how investigation interviews should be carried out, and in what manner the investigation must be documented.
4. Be Prompt about Investigating
If you are not sure whether you should investigate a complaint, it is always better to err on the side of caution and launch an investigation without delay. Delaying reflects poorly on your company and can result in a bad reputation – which can later cause hiring challenges.
Neglecting to investigate can also come back to haunt you if the employee making the allegation later chooses to pursue the claim through another avenue, such as the courts or a human rights tribunal. In contrast, launching an investigation into the employee’s complaint within a few days demonstrates that you take their concerns seriously.
5. Be Transparent and Build Trust Throughout the Process
Trust is critical in the workplace. According to Harvard Business Review, employees at organizations with a culture of trust report 50% more productivity and increased company loyalty.
An important way to avoid the consequences of an improper workplace investigation is to focus on trust and transparency throughout the investigation. Some of the ways that transparency is demonstrated throughout the process include:
- Informing the parties and witnesses that they cannot be retaliated against for their participation in the investigation, and similarly that they cannot retaliate against anyone else;
- Making sure anyone who is interviewed during the process is informed about the investigation process and their role in it;
- Emphasizing confidentiality by releasing information only to those who need to be aware of it; and
- Not making any false claims to those involved that all information will be kept confidential if that information may need to be shared.
6. Document Everything
Document every aspect of the investigation. This is a critical component in avoiding a claim of unfair treatment in the future. The documentation should include:
- The allegations;
- Steps taken during the investigation;
- Interview summaries;
- Summaries of other key documentary evidence;
- Findings of fact; and
- Investigation conclusions.
7. Take Action and Follow Up
After you reach a conclusion following the investigation, determine what actions need to be taken to protect your employees as well as to avoid any legal liability. This may involve taking steps like terminating an employee or mandating training.
It is also essential to follow up with employees to ensure that the problem that led to the investigation has been fully resolved. If both the employee who made the complaint and the employee complained of are staying with the organization, workplace restoration after the investigation may be necessary.
How an Experienced Lawyer Can Help
One of the most important steps you can take to prevent the consequences of an improper workplace investigation is to work with an experienced legal team that can help you to conduct a proper investigation. At Bridge Legal & HR Solutions, our experienced lawyers work closely with clients to ensure that their workplace investigation is a priority and reaches a thorough and unbiased outcome. Reach out to us today for support at 647-794-5442.