Five Essential Best Practices for Workplace Investigations

Jul 1, 2019 | Deborah C. Meiners

Conflict and complaints can be an unpleasant but unavoidable reality in any workplace. Properly handling workplace investigations will help to resolve conflicts, keep a business running smoothly, and avoid liability. Here are five best practices that should guide any workplace investigation.

Be Proactive. The best time to start preparing for a workplace investigation is before one becomes necessary. To begin, employers should consider establishing a policy encouraging employees to make complaints in writing. This will help ensure that complaints are brought forward in an orderly manner, will be promptly recognized and handled, and will be dealt with consistently each time. Employers should not, however, ignore complaints made verbally, even if there is a policy calling for something in writing.
Plan the Investigation. Who needs to be interviewed, and in what order? Who should conduct the interviews? What questions need to be asked? Where should the interviews take place? What kinds of documentations may be needed? All of these questions need to be considered and answered at the front end. Some answers may be relatively clear. For example, interviews should occur in a neutral, private location, and employers should aim to have two interviewers present when speaking with witnesses. Even though the plan may need to change as the investigation proceeds, addressing these particulars at the outset of an investigation will help the process run smoothly.
Be Timely. Employers should begin the investigation process as soon as possible, ideally within days of receiving a complaint. Promptness will show that the complaint is being taken seriously.
Encourage Confidentiality. Understandably, those involved in a workplace investigation are often concerned about confidentiality. Employers should not make impossible promises, so offer no assurances that information will be kept absolutely confidential. However, employers should emphasize confidentiality by limiting information only to those who need to know it.
Document and Follow Up. A workplace investigation is only as good as its documentation. Employers should generate investigation notes that are complete, accurate, and objective, and the conclusion reached in the investigation should be well-reasoned and well-documented as well. Once a conclusion is reached, moreover, employers must actually follow through. Inform the complaining employee of the conclusion of the investigation and carry out any necessary disciplinary action.

Best practices in a workplace investigation are easier read than followed. If you have any questions about workplace investigations, please reach out to a DeWitt LLP Labor & Employment attorney.