Workplace investigations can be time consuming and exhausting—but, despite that, they’re not a time where it’s okay to cut corners. When conducting an investigation, the organization must always remember that it’s not only seeking to resolve the issue at hand, it’s also seeking to minimize the risk of future lawsuits and do everything properly in case a future lawsuit does occur.
Here are some common workplace investigation mistakes:
- Not having an adequate and clear way for employees to report problems. Before an investigation can even start, you must have a way to become aware of a problem. If employees don’t know who they can turn to, you may never find out about something before it escalates.
- Likewise, it’s a problem to not have a general guideline for how an investigation will be conducted. This helps you to remain consistent in how employees are treated and helps to minimize the risk of inadvertently taking one person’s complaint more seriously than another’s.
- Allowing relevant information (read: evidence) to be ignored or destroyed.
- Failing to thoroughly document the investigation.
- Waiting too long to start an investigation, or ignoring the need to conduct an investigation at all. When someone comes to HR or to his or her manager with a complaint, it should always be taken seriously and addressed quickly. Putting off investigations of things like alleged harassment, discrimination, violence, or other problematic behavior could risk the situation worsening, and the employer can even have legal liabilities for knowing of a problem and failing to take timely action.
- Allowing personal biases to cloud judgment or influence the investigation in any way. Be sure that the individuals involved in the investigation do not have personal ties that can skew perspective. Be especially sure that the person investigating doesn’t have a negative history with anyone involved. If need be, consider getting a neutral third party to conduct the investigation to eliminate the chance for bias that comes from interpersonal relationships.
- Stopping the investigation before getting all of the facts. Clearly, it’s not possible to ever be 100% sure there is not one single detail missing, but it is simple nonetheless to ensure that you’ve talked to all people involved and to anyone who might be able to contribute—rather than stopping the investigation once you’ve got a couple corroborating stories.
- Not taking steps to ensure that the evidence you find is accurate. If you end up going to court over the matter, you must be able to prove the authenticity of the evidence you present. Be sure your investigation process ensures that all interviews are complete, consistent, and conducted in a way that allows the investigators to have a critical stance when reviewing information.
- Not training managers on retaliation. Even if you don’t end up finding evidence to support his or her complaint, as long as the complaint was brought in good faith, the employee has a right to make the organization aware of things he or she perceives as harassment, discrimination, etc. Any type of retaliation against the employee for doing so is illegal. Managers in particular should be trained on how to avoid both intentional and unintentional retaliation.
- Not creating a formal summary report of the findings, actions needed, and next steps.
- Not creating a plan for follow-up—and then acting on it. No matter what the result of the investigation, there will be follow-up items that are often critically important to get right to ensure that the situation does not repeat itself and to ensure that the resolution is working. Don’t miss out on these.
These are examples of the types of mistakes to avoid during workplace investigations. What else have you learned during these situations? Please share your tips in the comments.