The do’s and don’ts of workplace investigations

While the prospect of investigating colleagues may seem indicative of a poor or even toxic work culture, conducting internal investigations well is increasingly seen as critical for maintaining a healthy organisational culture. A well-managed internal investigation can help identify potential issues, uphold the organisation’s code of conduct and, most importantly, ensure regulatory compliance. When conducted properly, investigations can prevent both reputational damage and possible legal consequences, as well as foster an ethical workplace for employees.

However, the process requires careful handling to protect all parties involved. The following Dos and Don’ts will help you navigate the often difficult process of internal investigations and help avoid their inherent traps.

Do’s: best practices for workplace investigations

Act promptly and impartially

As soon as an issue is brought to your attention, act promptly to start the investigation. Ensure an impartial team is appointed to lead the process, consisting of individuals who are not directly involved in the matter being investigated. Delaying investigations can escalate problems and may lead to further complications.

Collect and preserve evidence

Secure all relevant documents, emails, and any physical evidence related to the case. This will help ensure that the investigation is  based on evidence rather than assumptions.

Maintain confidentiality

Internal investigations must be conducted with utmost confidentiality. Only disclose information on a need-to-know basis to protect the integrity of the inquiry and the privacy of those involved. Confidentiality protects the privacy of those involved and encourages open and honest communication during the investigation.

Appoint an Impartial Investigator

Selecting an external investigator who has no personal stake in the matter and who possesses the necessary skills and training to conduct an unbiased investigation is a vital part of the process. Impartiality is essential to maintaining credibility and fairness. External investigators are therefore often used to help guarantee a fair process, free from any preconceptions or personal bias.

Comply with applicable laws and regulations

Familiarise yourself with relevant laws and regulations that govern internal investigations in your industry and region. Adhering to these guidelines is crucial to avoiding potential legal liabilities and can help ensure that the correct process is followed. Managing such a process well can be a challenge, so it is vital to establish the process from the start, taking care to communicate clearly with all parties involved. In particular, ensure that the rights of the individuals involved are properly understood and the expected timelines and steps are made clear. This helps to establish transparency and openness, which will help foster trust and cooperation in the process. 

Interview witnesses and parties involved

Interview all relevant witnesses and individuals involved in the matter. Conduct these interviews in a respectful and non-confrontational manner, allowing each person to share their perspective freely.

Document everything

Maintain comprehensive records of the investigation process, including interviews, findings, evidence, and decisions made. This documentation can be valuable if the investigation’s results are challenged or questioned.

Don’ts: what to avoid when conducting a workplace investigation

Don’t jump to conclusions

Avoid forming preconceived notions about the situation or the individuals involved. Base your investigation on evidence and facts, not assumptions or biases.

Don’t retaliate

Never retaliate against individuals who report concerns or participate in the investigation. Protection from retaliation is crucial to encourage a transparent reporting culture within the organisation.

Don’t ignore small issues

Address even seemingly minor concerns seriously. Small issues can sometimes be the early red flags of more significant and substantial problems within the organisation

Don’t overlook conflicts of interest

Individuals involved in the investigation may have conflicts of interest that could compromise the impartiality of the process. Make sure to identify and evaluate any potential impact in your findings.

Don’t rush the process

While promptness is critical, rushing an investigation can lead to mistakes. Take the necessary time to gather evidence, conduct interviews, and reach a well-informed conclusion.

Don’t disclose information prematurely

Keep the details of the investigation confidential until the process is complete. Premature disclosure can severely harm the investigation’s integrity, jeopardise the privacy of those involved and alter the relevancy of the findings.

Don’t hesitate to seek external expertise

When dealing with legal or technical issues, it may be advisable to seek advice from an external expert to establish a thorough and accurate assessment of all the details. This also ensures the investigation team has the relevant skills to lead the inquiry, underpinning its independence and helping avoid any allegations of personal bias. 

Delivering a fair process for workplace investigations

Internal investigations are crucial to maintaining transparency, accountability, and trust within an organisation. Following these do’s and don’ts, based on our experience of conducting a wide range of workplace investigations, can help deliver a process that is fair, effective, and compliant with applicable laws and regulations.

A well-handled internal investigation can lead to improved processes and systems, a healthier work environment, and strengthened stakeholder confidence. Remember, an investigation is an opportunity to address issues and foster a stronger, more ethical workplace culture.

GoodCorporation can assist you with all corporate investigation concerns. Contact us for more information.