How to conduct an employee complaints investigation?

by on May 5, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Remember contents of your employee complaints investigation may become public one day

It is becoming increasingly frequent for employees to blog almost in real time about things happening during the employee complaints investigation such as, “The investigator came to talk to me and, gosh was that person inappropriate. I can’t believe they said this.”

So everything you do is creating an evidentiary record, your tone of voice, your appearance. And you need to bear that in mind. Also always bear in mind the duty to preserve evidence including electronic evidence.

Walk the walk
Always bear in mind that employees are judging your conduct against your company’s policies, almost – you know, most companies these days have beautiful policies that say, “We forbid retaliation and harassment, discrimination and we don’t allow retaliation. If you feel you’re being retaliated against, let us know immediately.”

You want employees to believe that. You want the employee to go back to their workplace after the employee complaints investigation and when they sit down and their coworker comes up to them and said, “How did it go?” You want them to say, “You know, it wasn’t so bad” rather than “Gosh, I can’t believe what they did.” So your audience includes the employees who are reading the policies and in their own minds determining whether the policies are really being followed.

Witness interviews
Witness interview is obviously critical component of any of investigation-especially those of employee complaints. You have to figure out how broad or narrow you’re going to go with your net and how many people you’re going to interview.

Document gathering is obviously critical and some of that should be done before the interview. During the investigation, you’ll ask people for any documents bearing on the subject matter. And you also probably will want to do some independent research. Don’t forget the internet. Don’t forget to search – the internet may have things like a criminal conviction of an employee for assault. If that employee is your alleged harasser, you may want to know that fact and separate those people right away to avoid retaliation. Following up during the course of an investigation on documents is important to continually ask everyone you’re talking to, are you aware of any documents.

Keep the employee complaints investigation file in a confidential place. You need to mark it confidential if you wish to preserve any privileges. Even if you don’t wish to preserve privileges, lots of things come out in investigations that companies typically do not want their workforce to know in general, lots of personal things can come out that is sensitive to specific employees or it’s sensitive to the company.

So maintaining the file in a separate place, not in anyone’s personal file, making sure it’s under lock in key in the legal department or an HR department is an important step.

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