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Best Practices for Workplace Investigations 

In any organization, maintaining a fair and respectful work environment is crucial for fostering productivity, employee satisfaction, and collective success. However, workplace allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing may arise, necessitating internal investigations to address and resolve such issues effectively. 

When should workplace investigations take place? 

Workplace investigations are not a method to manage day-to-day employee differences of opinion, conflict, or miscommunications. Instead, internal workplace investigations are necessary when serious allegations of safety violations, discrimination, harassment, or other organizational policy violations are brought forward. All complaints of this nature must be taken seriously. Organizations should remember their duty to act when they become aware of possible violations of policy, ethics, or the law. Internal investigations should not be taken lightly or casually, but they are also not a court of law. Workplace investigations are an internal process to gather facts that may support a potential violation of organizational policy.  

What are the benefits of workplace investigations? 

  • Ensures consistent enforcement of organizational policies. 
  • Minimizes the risk of lawsuits against the organization or its employees. 
  • Helps maintain a positive work environment free from harassment, discrimination, and other forms of misconduct. 
  • Provides documentation and records for future reference. 
  • Builds trust with employees; the organization takes their concerns seriously. 

Workplace Investigation Best Practices  

Human Resources professionals often play a pivotal role in conducting prompt and thorough internal investigations, while upholding ethical standards and preserving the integrity of the workplace. Below are a few key best practices for HR professionals to consider when conducting internal workplace investigations. This information is not intended to be all-inclusive: 

  1. Establish Clear Policies and Procedures: Before any issues arise, organizations should have well-defined policies and procedures outlining the process for conducting internal investigations. These guidelines should be easily accessible to all employees and cover various scenarios, including harassment, discrimination, conflicts of interest, and misconduct. Clarity in policies helps ensure consistency and fairness throughout the investigation process. 
  2. Designate an investigation official(s): Designate at least one investigation official and provide comprehensive training in conducting effective workplace investigations before the need for an investigation arises. The Company’s investigation official should be an unbiased management representative, often a Human Resources professional, who can maintain the highest levels of confidentiality, impartiality, and objectivity. If possible, organizations may also wish to designate an alternative official if impartiality or objectivity is not feasible in a specific instance. Choose the appropriate investigator wisely based on each situation that arises. 
  3. Consider the Need for Legal Advice: Allegations of organizational policy violations may also involve allegations of illegal activity, which may create concerns about litigation. Involve your legal counsel early to receive their expert advice on how to proceed with specific situations. Strategic partnership with a qualified employment attorney can help mitigate the risk of legal challenges, and ensure investigations are conducted in accordance with all applicable legal requirements. 
  4. Conduct Thorough and Prompt Investigations: HR professionals should conduct thorough investigations promptly while ensuring accuracy and attention to detail. Investigations should generally be initiated within two (2) business days of the complaint. Provide immediate interim protection (such as separating the parties involved), thoughtfully plan the investigation, gather facts and relevant materials from all possible sources, develop interview questions in advance, conduct the interviews, and evaluate the factual findings. Stick to your investigation plan; avoid drawing conclusions or taking action too early until all relevant facts have been gathered. 
  5. Document, Document, Document: Maintaining accurate documentation is crucial throughout the investigation process including keeping detailed findings, actions taken, decisions made, and all correspondence related to the investigation. Comprehensive documentation serves as a valuable reference for future inquiries, audits, or legal proceedings and helps mitigate potential risks associated with incomplete or inconsistent records. If disciplinary action is taken, a copy of that action should be stored in the accused’s personnel file, but all other documentation related to workplace investigations should be stored separately from employees’ personnel files and marked as confidential. 
  6. Communicate Transparently and Timely: HR professionals should communicate transparently with all parties involved (without jeopardizing confidentiality) and provide updates on the investigation’s progress, timelines, and any relevant outcomes or decisions, to those on a “need to know” basis. Clear communication, rooted in empathy, helps reduce speculation, maintains trust, and demonstrates the organization’s commitment to addressing workplace concerns promptly and professionally. 
  7. Take Prompt Corrective Action: Once the investigation is complete, the organization should take appropriate corrective action promptly, based on the factual findings of the investigation. This may include disciplinary measures, additional training, policy revisions, or other interventions to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future.  

When workplace investigations are done with these best practices in mind, organizations can effectively identify root causes of issues, take appropriate action to minimize or eliminate future occurrences, maintain trust, and preserve the integrity of the workplace – ultimately, positioning everyone better for collective success. 

How HR Works Can Help 

HR Works offers a suite of comprehensive HR outsourcing services including assistance with workplace investigations. From special projects to year-round consulting and guidance, our HR Strategic Support services are here to help address your long or short-term HR needs. 

Whether you are looking for assistance with a specific employee investigation or ongoing support, our solutions can be customized to fit your unique needs. To learn more, contact us today or call 1-877-219-9062. 

Written By:

Jane Kunkel
HR Strategic Partner

HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.