An employee approaches a manager with a complaint or a problem, usually involving another employee. At that point the manager needs to consider whether an investigation into the complaint is warranted and how to best handle the inquiry.
When faced with almost any workplace complaint or problem, companies can use a basic approach that consists of 10 steps:
1) Decide Whether An Investigation Is Warranted
Consider first whether an investigation is warranted. When in doubt it’s best to err on the side of conducting an investigation. If the problem is more serious than it first seemed, failing to investigate can lead to legal trouble.
2) Take Immediate Action When Necessary
You might have to jump in right away – even before the investigation is begun – if a situation is volatile or could otherwise cause immediate harm to employees or your business.
3) Choose An Investigator
The investigator should be experienced and/or trained in investigation techniques. This person should also be impartial and perceived as impartial by the employees involved, and capable of acting – and, if necessary, testifying in court about the situation.
4) Plan The Investigation
Take time to organize your thoughts and plan your approach. Look at any info you already have about the problem – such as an employee complaint, a supervisor’s report, written warnings, or materials that are part of the problem.
5) Conduct Interviews
The most basic way to gather relevant information is by asking people questions. Most investigations involve at least two interviews: one of the employee who was accused and another of the employee who complained. Sometimes, you will also want to interview witnesses.
6) Gather Documents And Evidence
Every investigation will rely to some extent on documents – personnel files, e-mail messages, company policies, correspondence, and so on. Some investigations will require you to gather other evidence, such as drugs, a weapon, photographs or stolen items.
7) Evaluate The Evidence
The most challenging part of many investigations is figuring out what actually happened. You’ll want to consider, for example, whose story makes the most sense, whose demeanor was more convincing, and who (if anyone) has a motive to deceive.
8) Take Action
Once you decide what happened, you’ll have to figure out what, if anything, to do about it. If you conclude that wrongdoing occurred, you will have to take disciplinary action quickly to avoid legal liability for that employee’s behavior and to protect your organization and other workers from harm.
9) Document The Investigation
Once an investigation is complete, produce an investigation report that explains what you did and why.
10) Follow Up
The last step is to follow up with employees to make sure that the problem that led to the investigation has been addressed and/or solved.