When an employee makes a complaint, either through the company’s hotline, verbally to his or her manager or through any other avenue, it’s important for the company to start the internal investigation process quickly. If you’re involved in handling internal investigations for your business, there are steps and tools that can improve your effectiveness in managing all parts of an internal investigation.

These eight steps can help you improve the investigation process in your workplace.

  1. Follow Workplace Policy

It’s important to follow the company’s policies for handling different types of allegations (harassment, discrimination, privacy, theft, etc.). Workplace policies may dictate that different types of complaints require different procedures.

In addition, the company code of conduct is a great place to start gathering information on the behaviour that is expected of employees and to determine whether the activity being reported violates workplace policies.

Aside from following company policy, it’s important to ensure that all legal obligations are upheld throughout the investigation process.

Does your company have good workplace policy documentation? Stopline can offer assistance with drafting and developing your code of conduct. Contact us for more information

  1. Determine if Further Investigation is Necessary

Not all complaints require a full-blown investigation, but it’s usually wise to take some form of action on a complaint to ensure it doesn’t escalate. There may also be cases in which an employee makes a complaint but ask for nothing to be done.

At the very least, conduct a preliminary investigation, making basic inquiries to ensure that the incident is, in fact, low risk or unsubstantiated. This is a great risk mitigation strategy to ensure that you have a record outlining the basis for closure of the incident without a full investigation.

  1. Assign Investigator(s)

Assign an investigator to the case, taking into account that it may sometimes be necessary to assign an outside investigator. The person selected to conduct the investigation should be independent and objective and should not be in a position of direct authority over any of the people involved in the complaint.

  1. Create a Plan of Action

Outline a plan of action and make a list of questions that need to be answered by the complainant, the subject of the allegation and any witnesses. If you don’t have an enterprise investigative case management solution, you can create your own investigation plan.

Need help planning your investigation?

Begin by answering the following questions:

  • What is the allegation?
  • Is there a company policy related to the alleged behavior?
  • Who is the complainant?
  • What is his or her job role?
  • Who is the subject of the complaint?
  • What is his or her job role?
  • Should supervisors and managers be informed of the allegation?
  • Is there any documentation related to the allegation?
  • Are there any witnesses to the alleged behavior?
  • Who should be interviewed?
  • Where should interviews be conducted?
  • Should the parties to the complaint be separated during the investigation?
  • Does any immediate action need to be taken to ensure the safety of anyone related to the complaint?
  • Is a litigation hold required?
  • Does the IT Department need to be involved?

Alternatively, ask us about out investigative services and how we can help you.

  1. Collect & Review Evidence

Gather and record any supporting evidence available to support the investigation. Evidence or exhibits could be in the form of e-mails, video footage, reports, witness interviews etc. It’s beneficial to get a signed statement from the complainant in order to keep a clear audit trail documenting the allegation.

Depending on the allegation type, interviews will generally be the most critical part of your investigation.  This generally includes the subject, the complainant and any other staff members who have either witnessed or have any further information relevant to the allegation that could be held as useful evidence, in order to either prove or disprove the allegation. It’s important to document all of their responses by either recording interviews or taking notes.

Once all of the available information has been collected, it must be carefully examine and analysed prior to preparing the final report. Look for elements within the evidence collected that either corroborates or refutes the allegation to determine whether the allegation can be substantiated or unsubstantiated.

  1. The Final Report

Create an overview of the investigation by summarizing the evidence collected and the recommended outcome. Include supporting evidence, any applicable laws, regulations or workplace policies that relate to the case, and outline the necessary course of action to be taken.

In some cases it may be beneficial to use case management software programs such as the those offered by i-sight, which can help simplify the process and create a comprehensive and auditable electronic case file.  For more information on these programs including a free investigation report template, click here.

  1. Take Action

Corrective action, if taken, should be tailored to the situation. Appropriate action could include:

  • employee training
  • disciplinary action
  • creating new policies
  • revising existing policies

Once you determine the appropriate action, act on it to correct the issue as soon as possible.

  1. Follow Up

Conduct separate follow ups regarding the complaint. Follow up with the subject to make sure that they have made the necessary corrective actions and provide them with the tools and training necessary to make changes. With the complainant, follow up questions should be aimed at ensuring there are no signs of retaliation and to make sure that they are aware that the situation has been handled.  Finally, ask them if they have noticed an improvement since their complaint was made.

Reference:  Joe Gerard, CEO, i-sight, i-sight.com