To Investigate, or Not to Investigate – That is the Question


By Molly Wood, SPHR, MAOL Senior HR Consultant

When business owners hear the term “Workplace Investigation”, it’s possible that a vision of the office crawling with law enforcement officers and detectives assessing the scene of the crime comes to mind. Alas, most investigations are much less dramatic than your favorite Law & Order iteration. However, determining when and how to conduct an investigation has the potential to make or break your company. DUNK DUNK (That’s the L&O intro tag, in case you didn’t recognize it).

While employee disputes and grievances may be a part of day-to-day operations, it’s important to understand when a formal investigation is warranted. An employee disgruntled with their weekly schedule is not likely to be an issue to scrutinize. An employee complaining of unfair treatment (which could lead to an accusation of discrimination) is something that should be looked into.

Investigations do not necessarily need to be a huge production, but if staff members raise concerns about anything that could be construed as harassment, discrimination, and/or retaliation, employers should examine the reasons behind the issue to ensure that measures have been taken to dispute or resolve a claim if it should lead to litigation.

Probably the most important factor in a workplace investigation is the impartiality of the investigator. The person who is leading the inquiry should be someone who can be objective and open to all sides of a story. In addition to impartiality, confidentiality is also essential to an effective investigation. Information should be shared on a need-to-know basis. That way if the investigation shows no wrong-doing, speculation and gossip will be minimized.

Another important thing to understand is that the investigator is not trying to “solve” anything. Instead, they are gathering facts and determining if there are discrepancies in allegations. As often as not, the events of the investigation are not disputed, rather it is the perceptions of individuals that are not aligned.

SDEA will be presenting a webinar (free to members) on how to conduct an investigation on August 17 at 11:30. This workshop will provide you with methodologies and best practices to manage an objective and effective investigation. At SDEA we are not just here for you, we are HeRe with you. Never hesitate to call 858-505-0024.

Contact us: 858.505.0024