When a company’s internal investigation into an incident or employee complaint is handled poorly, the consequences can be significant. Not only could it cost the company money (millions of dollars, in some cases), but it can also damage its reputation as a desirable workplace. Since it often falls to human resource professionals to conduct these investigations, it’s important that they avoid certain common mistakes.
Mistakes to Avoid During Internal Investigations
When a complaint comes into the HR department, it must be taken seriously, particularly if it involves a claim of harassment, discrimination, retaliation, or workplace safety issues. In fact, employers are legally mandated to investigate these kinds of complaints. The first and most important step is to determine who will conduct the investigation, who is being investigated, what evidence will be needed, and who will be interviewed. Once a plan is in place, it is vital to avoid these common mistakes:
- Losing objectivity. It doesn’t matter who the complainant is; the investigator must listen to them with total objectivity. Forming opinions based on past interactions or on company gossip will compromise the investigation.
- Being overly aggressive in interviews. Strong-arming employees into recanting a complaint is always a bad idea. Be respectful, provide a comfortable environment, ask straightforward questions, and don’t allow an investigator to interview an employee alone.
- Not being thorough. While you should not drag out an investigation unnecessarily, you should take the time to gather physical evidence such as emails and video footage, speak to everyone involved, eliminate other distractions, and give the inquiry your full attention. A missed detail could come back to bite you.
- Not reaching a conclusion. The point of an internal investigation is to determine whether company policies were violated or misconduct occurred, so it is important that the investigator reaches some kind of conclusion. In addition, every step of the investigation should be documented to support the conclusion.
Once a conclusion is reached, the investigator must follow through by creating a detailed written report, submitting their findings to a decision-maker, notifying the complainant, and taking steps to avoid similar problems in the future.
Get Legal Guidance From an Experienced Attorney
Whether you need help with a new or ongoing internal investigation or want guidance in establishing a clear process for conducting investigations moving forward, call Steinberg Law. Our workplace investigation team will provide clear, reliable assistance to your HR department and decision-makers. You can reach us by phone at 908-685-0600 or fill out our contact form, and we will get back to you promptly.