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How to Decide When to Investigate an Employee Complaint

Every employee complaint should be taken seriously, but not all of them require an investigation. So how do you know when to investigate? This guide can help you decide.

Posted by Ann Snook on July 30th, 2019

More than half of today’s employees don’t feel respected at work. Of those who feel they’re treated with respect, 89 per cent reported greater job satisfaction and 92 per cent reported better focus. Satisfied, focused employees contribute to a healthy, productive work environment. For this reason, the way that you handle an employee complaint can affect the entire organization.

However, not every allegation requires an employee complaint investigation. So how do you decide when you should investigate and when it’s not needed? While every workplace is different, this guide has tips that organizations should consider before launching an internal investigation.


Having a thorough, easy-to-use form can streamline your decision to investigate (or not). Download our employee complaint form template here.


What is the Complaint About?


When deciding whether to investigate an employee complaint, the first step is to consider the allegation type. Serious incidents that involve legal or ethical issues should always be investigated. Legal and ethical incidents may include:

  • Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Retaliation
  • Wrongful termination
  • Ethics and compliance breaches
  • Other illegal conduct
  • Health and safety concerns


As a general rule, if the case could go to court, you should investigate it.

On the other hand, minor allegations can usually be resolved informally and don’t require an employee complaint investigation. For example, if an employee complains about the temperature of the office or that their cubicle neighbour talks too loudly on the phone, you can probably find alternative resolutions to a formal investigation.

customer complaint management software

How Did Your Organization Handle Similar Employee Complaints?


Did your organization investigate a similar allegation in the past? If so, then it’s a good idea to investigate this one, too. Consistency is key when it comes to handling employee complaints.

When you establish protocol for handling certain incident types, it not only lets employees know what to expect when they submit a complaint, but it can also protect your organization should they take legal action. Formally document these procedures in your workplace policies to streamline the complaint-handling process.


RELATED: To Investigate or Not? That is the Question


Does the Allegation Demonstrate a Pattern?


Patterns of misconduct or other issues are a major red flag. Have you received numerous similar complaints involving the same employee(s) in a short time? If so, you should immediately launch an employee complaint investigation. Multiple employees have complained about the same person or problem, which means even more could be suffering with it in silence. Manage risk now before the issue escalates even further.


RELATED: What to Look for in a Complaint Management System


Does the Complaint Involve Multiple Employees?


When an allegation involves more than one employee, it may warrant an investigation. How employees relate to each other can make or break workplace culture. Because of this, most employee complaints about coworkers should be investigated formally.

The more employees that are involved in an allegation, the higher the chance of disruption to the entire workplace if the complaint isn’t investigated and resolved properly.



Further Considerations


When considering whether to investigate an employee complaint, you should not only evaluate the allegation itself, but also the investigation process.

For instance, would you need to interview the parties involved in order to understand the situation and reach a conclusion? If not, such as for a complaint about the office temperature, you may not need to investigate. If you would need to conduct interviews, an employee complaint investigation may be required.

Another question to consider is whether or not you’ll need the help of outside experts to reach a decision. You might need to hire lawyers, auditors, or IT professionals to provide insight into the allegation. As a result, a formal investigation is required. For simpler cases, your HR team may be able to manage the case informally.


Organizations should follow one rule when it comes to employee complaints: take every complaint seriously, but recognize that not every complaint needs a full-on investigation. 

Ann Snook
Ann Snook

Marketing Writer

Ann is a marketing writer at i-Sight Software. She writes about issues related to investigations of fraud, employee misconduct, corporate security, Title IX, ethics & compliance and more.

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