Investigation Guidance: Deciding When to Investigate Further

Posted by Joe Gerard in on April 16th, 2010

Companies need to carefully consider whether or not incoming allegations warrant an in depth investigation. The dilemma HR managers and investigators are faced with is that they don’t want to waste time or money running a complete investigation when the allegations lack solid evidence or grounds to investigate. At the same time, the liability and risks faced by a company that delays or dismisses allegations without giving them the proper consideration, can lead to even larger problems.

An investigation technique that many companies have been using is a system that “pre-screens” allegations when they are made to make a decision regarding the need to investigate any further.  This allows companies to handle all incoming complaints in a consistent manner and ensures that each case gets reviewed before being dismissed or investigated fully.

Questions to Ask

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When new complaints and cases are made, it’s important to immediately evaluate the allegations to determine if the case warrants further investigation. Prompt response to the allegations and consistency in handling incoming complaints helps to reduce the risk of liability associated with the outcome of deciding whether or not to investigate further. In the SHRM article, “Expert Provides Guidance on Investigation Dilemmas”, Denise Kay from Employment Practices Solutions, Inc. stated that:

“HR people get in trouble when they are perceived as “picking and choosing” which complaints to act on. Courts give us some guidance on what needs to be investigated,” she added, “such as allegations of harassment, discrimination, theft, substance abuse, violence, Internet/e-mail usage, insubordination, ethics and financial issues.”

Developing a standardized set of questions that must be answered for each incoming allegation is a useful investigation technique that is fairly easy to develop. You will want to ask questions that address laws and other legal issues, as well as ones that deal with internal company policies. If there are violations of either, chances are, a more in depth investigation will be necessary. Within the SHRM article “Expert Provides Guidance on Investigation Dilemmas“, Kay recommends a series of questions that employers should ask when evaluating whether an investigation is needed, such as:

  • Does your policy mandate an investigation?
  • How serious is the complaint? What are the implications of the complaint?
  • Who is complaining; are they part of a protected class?
  • Is there, or has there been, more than one related concern?
  • Can you see litigation looming on the horizon?


Consistency and neutrality must be maintained throughout the entire investigative process- beginning the moment allegations are made. By developing a centralized procedure for handling and evaluating incoming allegations, you can easily communicate that all allegations are given equal consideration. When developing your company’s procedure, you may also consider creating a checklist of steps- including the list of evaluation questions, in order to ensure greater consistency among investigators.

Another way to demonstrate consistency could possibly be to assign an individual (depending on the volume of incoming allegations, you may need to select a group), that only deals with pre-screening and making the final call regarding the decision to investigate. Allowing a person or group to focus on this element of the process makes it easier for them to become efficient at coming to conclusions and being very familiar with the established procedures and key information that is needed. From there, depending on the decision, the case can then be filtered through to another group or investigator to conduct the complete version of an investigation.

Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

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