Management’s checklist for effective workplace investigations

If you believe your employee rights are being violated, you should (in some cases, you must) give your employer an opportunity to remedy the situation before you file an employment lawsuit. When you raise a complaint at work, your employer or the person designated to handle employee complaints (e.g., the Human Resources director) should conduct an investigation. The employer’s representative may follow a checklist, similar to the following, to ensure a thorough and effective investigation:

  • 1. Initial Meeting With Person Raising Complaint
    • a. Be sure the person raising the complaint is comfortable with you handling the investigation.
    • b. When conducting your initial interview, get the facts: who, what, when, where, why and how.
  • 2. Determine If Internal Investigation Is Needed
    • a. Will a single answer resolve the complaint?
    • b. Are other employees involved?
    • c. Do you need more facts than the employee is able to provide?
    • d. Do you need the help of any other resource in order to reach a conclusion?
  • 3. Determine Nature of Complaint
    • a. Identify the employee’s specific complaint(s).
    • b. Determine the company’s obligation to resolve the issue.
    • c. Decide who else is necessary to assist you in resolving the issue.
  • 4. Plan Investigation
    • a. Determine which employer policies, guidelines or practices apply to this situation.
    • b. Obtain all relevant documents that will assist you in conducting your investigation.
    • c. Determine who is suited to conduct this investigation.
    • d. Decide who you should interview.
    • e. Decide the order of interviews.
    • f. Determine if interim actions are necessary before you initiate the investigation.
    • g. Outline the questions you will ask.
  • 5. Conduct Actual Investigation
    • a. Anticipate the questions that each interviewee will ask.
    • b. Before you begin the interview, be prepared to explain what you are investigating; why the interviewee is being interviewed; and how the information obtained will be used.
    • c. Stress that no conclusion has yet been reached.
    • d. Emphasize the company’s policy regarding confidentiality and reprisal.
  • 6. Conduct Effective Interviews
    • a. Give the person who is the focus of the investigation sufficient information to respond to the claim.
    • b. Obtain the interviewee’s detailed account of the events surrounding the claim.
    • c. Get as much information as possible from the interviewee.
      • (1) Understand what policy or guideline forms the basis of the complaint.
      • (2) Understand what facts are necessary to reach a conclusion.
    • d. Effective techniques for asking questions.
      • (1) Draft a preliminary list of questions you want to ask.
      • (2) Save unfriendly or embarrassing questions until the end of the interview.
      • (3) Do not begin with hostile or tough questions.
      • (4) Start with “broad” questions.
      • (5) Do not put words into the interviewee’s mouth.
      • (6) Ask the tough questions.
      • (7) Go beyond your pre-planned questions.
      • (8) Ask questions designed to elicit relevant facts.
      • (9) Ask who, what, when, where, why and how.
  • 7. Assess Credibility
    • a. Make notes that will help assess credibility as soon as the interviewee leaves.
    • b. Review the interviewee’s chronology of events.
    • c. Note the interviewee’s demeanor.
    • d. What, if any, admissions were made during the interview?
    • e. Did the interviewee deny anything?
    • f. Were conflicting statements made?
    • g. Was the interviewee’s explanation plausible?
  • 8. Make a Recommendation
    • a. Were any of the company’s policies, guidelines or procedures violated?
    • b. Is any violation serious or minor?
    • c. Do any local, state or federal laws require you to take certain actions?
    • d. What is the employee’s history at your company regarding length of employment, prior complaints and/or problems, performance, etc.?
    • e. What, if any, factors would mitigate against instituting discipline in this case?
    • f. Follow up as appropriate.
  • 9. Comply With Company Policies Regarding Documentation
    • a. Review the documentation guidelines to be sure you have documented your investigation properly.
    • b. Distribute your findings and conclusions to appropriate people pursuant to your company’s guidelines.
    • c. Be sure that the “personnel files” of the employee raising the complaint and the employee who was the focus of the complaint are properly documented and remain confidential.