How will you know if you need to conduct an internal investigation of an employee in your workplace? And what is the best way to conduct such an investigation?
There are a host of employee problems that may lead to an employer starting an investigation including: attitude or morale problems, substance abuse, discrimination complaints, harassment complaints, threats against others, vandalism/sabotage, violations of work rules, safety problems, workplace theft, an employee files a formal complaint or grievance or reports of a questionable situation.
Prompt and Thorough
The main goal of any investigation is to reveal whether misconduct has occurred, identify or exonerate specific employees and put a stop to further wrongful actions, and to provide a sound, factual basis for decisions by management. The investigation should also produce reliable documentation that can be used to support management actions.
Companies must be prepared to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation when a situation arises in order to avoid potential witnesses leaving the company, becoming intimidated, forgetting details, or becoming unavailable. Being able to show that a prompt and thorough investigation was conducted may make the difference between winning and losing before the EEOC or a court.
Choosing an Investigator
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Often investigators come from the human resources staff, but managers may need to be brought in if they will get better cooperation from potential witnesses. It may also be necessary to bring in an outside investigator, such as a consultant, especially if the situation is delicate or requires confidentiality.
Since the main goals of an investigation are to produce a reliable set of facts to reach a conclusion, investigators will have to tie all the various facts and documents together and show relevance. They may also report their findings to management and recommend actions that can be taken. Their reports should contain:
- a description of the situation
- a witness list
- documents that can be used as evidence
- summary of the information gathered
- assessment of the credibility and relevance of the evidence
- findings of fact on each element of the alleged offense or violation
If a recommendation is needed, it should follow the findings of fact, providing the company with a solid basis for taking action and defending itself against any claims of inaction or unfair treatment and help to keep employers out of court and ease their worries.