For some, the topic of workplace investigations can seem heavy and intimidating, because if you have decided to conduct an investigation it probably means something or someone went wrong and you need more information to decide next steps. Nevertheless, don’t let that deter you from looking into an issue or concern. On the contrary an investigation can clarify and issue and even alert you to situations that you were not aware of or would not have know if it not through the investigation. Additionally, an investigation can also support your case if you were later to be in a legal case because of the issue.
- One of the first tips of an investigation it to be impartial.
- You typically start an investigation with the information of one person or one “side” of the story, then you start obtaining the other version. Always remember, there are going to be multiple versions of the same story, therefore, do not make a decision until you have heard all the facts. This is important because if you have already taken someone’s side, it could potentially affect the way you conduct the investigation and could sway the way you question a potential witness. Questioning that witness is the most important part of the investigation and it can be tainted by the formulation of the question if you are not impartial. For example, it’s not the same to ask a person “what do you think happened?” to “what do you know happened?’ and its also not the same to ask “what did you do? in comparison to “I know you did it, just tell me?”. Depending on how you formulate the question will create the environment for the person you are investigating and will determine if they feel at ease to respond truthfully or if they feel like you are accusing them of something and they respond defensively.
- Another tip I commonly recommend it to plan the investigation timely.
- You want to make sure you are thorough and if you wing it, most likely you will not be. Understand the issue and decide who will be part of the investigation. Not only who will be interviewed as a witness but who will conduct the questioning. This is important because if the issue is with an employee and the manager, you do not want that manager to assist in conducting the investigation. You might want to bring another manager from a different department, or have your human resources team assist or, at times, you might need to hire an independent contractor to assist in order to avoid any biases. Typically people feel more comfortable speaking to an independent person because they feel no judgement from the person since they do not know them.
- Make a plan as to where and when you will conduct the interviews. Consider employees schedules and place of work. Ensure it is somewhere private where they can speak freely. It might need to be somewhere outside of work like a coffee shop or a library (if you do this you need to consider paying the employee travel if it is too far from work). At times, you might need to question someone again, therefore allowing yourself the proper amount of time with each individual is important (I typically schedule 45 minutes with each person).
- Gather documentation needed and prepare a list of questions. Ensure you are ready by reviewing employee files, including performance reviews. Study all documents related to the issue such as emails, photographs, camera footage, etc., you want to have as much information as possible before you start questioning. The interview/questioning process should also be planed. To ensure consistency during the interview process, be prepared with a standard list of questions you want to ask each person. This will assist in obtaining the same information from everyone. At the same time, be open to ask additional questions depending on how the conversation is leading, there might be things you hear from one person that you did not hear from another person which might need more attention.
- Wrapping up your investigation
- Obtain a written statement from each person after each interview. Don’t be afraid to read the statement before allowing them to leave to ensure their written statement mirrors the answers they gave you during the interview/questioning process. You would be surprised how people change their answers once you ask them to put it in writing.
- Evaluate all the evidence and take the time to understand each issue. You might have evidence that is contradictory or confusing, therefore, this might be the time you would need to go back to someone to clarify an issue. Don’t be afraid to do so, it might be time consuming, but it would be worse if you make a decision without all of the facts. Once you have all the evidence together and clarified any concern you should have a clearer picture of the events.
- Making a decision
- After an investigation you must take action. Whether the action is to discipline someone, or to train you staff again on an issue, you should have some next steps for lessons learned. Review your handbook to see if it addresses the issue, understand what has been done in the past for issues similar and what actions were taken. You want to be fair with the discipline in accordance with the ‘crime”.
Conducting investigations can be timely, cumbersome and stressful however they are definitely important to perform. You do not want to be in a legal dispute because an employee told you about something that ultimately got escalated to which you did not do anything about. This not only can cause legal issues and monetary loss, but it also corrupts employee confidence in working in a fair and safe workplace. Here at Tua Top Tips we can help you conduct any workplace investigation with an independent objective.