How to Stay Impartial When Conducting an Employee Investigation

If you can’t put aside biases, put aside the investigation

Posted by Timothy Dimoff in on April 22nd, 2014

When conducting an employee investigation, it is very important to create the perception of impartiality. Perception is reality so you must begin to create the perception of impartiality from the very beginning of the investigation. If you can’t be neutral, consider a third-party investigator.

An impartial investigation starts as soon as possible after an allegation or information surfaces. Always act in a timely manner. You can’t afford to delay employee investigations because stories and memories can change.

You can avoid a number of potential problems by conducting an impartial investigation. These include:

  • loss of employee morale
  • destruction of confidentiality
  • potential litigation

If you work for a public company in the United States, you must follow certain protocol when dealing with ethical complaints after the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2003.

Impartial Employee Investigations

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Investigations of employee complaints are complicated but if they are handled properly they can avoid costly litigation. If you are conducting the investigation in-house, first and foremost leave any of your own biases out of it entirely before you begin. Once you begin the investigation, it is too late.

You, as the investigator, need to remain neutral. Even if you know the parties and may even suspect one or more of them, you must not show any suspicions. Everyone can either be a victim or a perpetrator, no matter how well you may know them. It’s important to be honest with yourself and if you don’t think you can remain impartial, disclose this and allow someone else to conduct the investigation.

Encourage Open Dialogue

It is also very important to establish an open dialogue with all involved parties to ensure fairness. They must feel comfortable talking with you, meeting with you, and sharing information. If they have seen examples of action to resolve employee complaints in the past, they will know that odds are good that something will be done to address the situation. The confidence you instill in them will help your investigation.

Begin your interviewing process by talking to the workers and anyone connected or accused to the situation. Let them know that you need to ask questions in order to fully investigate the claims. If they request secrecy, tell them you can’t promise it and that if the situation warrants it, you are obligated to report what you learn. What you can promise is not to tell any co-workers or other employees, other than managers or investigators who must be told, what they tell you.

If you need to interview others who are not directly involved in the alleged incidents or situations, tell them you are only looking into a situation that has come up and may only be gossip. Assure them that their job is not in jeopardy if they talk with you.

Impartiality and open dialogue are two of the most important factors in conducting fair, efficient and successful investigations.

Timothy Dimoff
Timothy Dimoff

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues.
He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University.

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