Workplace investigations are not easy. They create stress for everyone involved, but are often necessary in order to get to the facts of the issue or complaint.
A good, thorough investigation plan can go a long way to helping the investigation go quickly and smoothly. Prior to conducting any workplace investigation, I suggest you prepare a thorough plan to help guide you through the necessary steps.
Need help? Download the Investigation Plan Template to ensure you cover all the bases.
A good investigation involves many pieces and parts, interviews with several people, lots of fact checking and much more. Having a good investigation plan will help you stay organized, on time and be a great help when writing up your findings.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
The first step in writing an investigation plan is to prepare, prepare, prepare! Good, thorough planning will make your investigation flow smoothly and in a timely manner. It will also go a long way to making sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Begin by identifying the complaint and the accused. It is important to understand and document what the actual complaint is and what the allegations are, who is involved and any other pertinent information relating to the complaint.
Next, identify any resources that might be needed, including:
- electronic security/access data
- employee personnel files
- records of prior investigations
- records of prior allegations
- physical evidence, etc.
Make sure to follow chain of custody rules if gathering physical evidence. Also include any resources that might need funding, the costs and identify sources of such funding.
Make a list of all witnesses who need to be investigated. This list is important and should only contain witnesses who actually saw or heard the event. It is helpful to list the reasons why these people have been chosen as witnesses and their contact information.
You may also want to develop a specific order for witness interviews and decide when is the best time to conduct the interviews taking into account when you have obtained all the necessary evidence.
Make a Schedule
Develop a timeline. This is important and should contain deadlines for completing all steps of the investigation.
Include dates or deadlines for:
- when evidence gathering should be completed
- when witness interviews should be instituted and completed
- scene visits, if necessary
- when the investigation should be completed
- writing up the findings
Acknowledge who will receive copies of this document and any internal or external communication dates that should be met. Be as specific as possible, but since this is a working document, it may need to be edited if there are delays or unknowns that come up.
I suggest you also use a written Investigation Confidentiality Agreement. This should be signed by anyone who is interviewed. It helps to protect the integrity of the investigation. You can also do this orally, but I recommend using one that can be printed and signed. (Note: When requesting confidentiality, be aware of the NLRB’s ruling on this issue and be prepared to prove the confidentiality restriction is necessary.)
Choose the Investigator(s)
The next step is to determine who will do the interviewing. Choosing the right investigator is important. You may want to bring in an outside investigator who can present as impartial and doesn’t have any existing relationships that could impair the investigation or make anyone uncomfortable.
Whomever is chosen must be neutral and objective. They cannot have any relationship with anyone who is involved, nor should they have any personal or professional stake in the outcome of the investigation. Their temperament is important also. They need to be able to remain fair and impartial. They should also be able to maintain confidentiality. The investigator also should know any legal, regulatory, or ethical standards that may apply to the investigation.
Consider All Possible Scenarios
Often, the question of having a third-party present during the interview comes up. I believe that it is usually best not to have a third-party present during the interviews. I recommend conducting private interviews that allow for the interviewee to be comfortable and honest without fear of reproach. If there is an issue of possible bias, a third party may be allowed to sit in the interview, but this should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
In some cases, there may be a concern for potential violence. If that occurs, you should hire or place a security professional nearby. You can be discreet but make sure they are close enough to quickly respond if necessary.
Developing a thorough investigation plan will be well worth your effort in both time and money.