Uncovering the Truth: Best Practices for Conducting Workplace Investigations

How a company responds to an allegation of misconduct is as crucial to its reputation as the alleged wrong-doing itself. Workplace investigations play a pivotal role in addressing concerns related to significant wrongdoing and misconduct, or ethical lapses. However, the skills required for effective workplace investigations are specific, often necessitating the creation of investigation guidelines for employees.

Investigations have to be conducted with care; if handled incorrectly and without proper procedure, they can cause serious harm to both the people involved and the reputation of the company itself. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the critical components of workplace investigations, covering their definition to key principles and best practices.

What is a workplace investigation?

A workplace investigation is an objective, independent, and systematic process aimed at uncovering facts about a specific incident at work. These investigations are initiated when credible information suggests significant wrongdoing, misconduct, or ethical lapses have occurred, with the primary purpose of determining the truth behind a particular incident. Investigations may also be conducted to help prevent the possibility of wrongdoing occurring and/or reoccurring within the company, even in the absence of specific allegations against a particular employee or department.

Workplace investigations may be initiated for various reasons. These can include internal concerns, external allegations, regulatory demands, due diligence for mergers and acquisitions, civil litigation claims, audit reports, and media reports.

Top tips for conducting a workplace investigation

1. Maintain confidentiality

Confidentiality is the backbone of any successful workplace investigation. It is essential that all those involved are made aware of who they can and cannot speak to about the investigation and fully understand the consequences of a confidentiality breach. Breaches to confidentiality when conducting an investigation can lead to harmful gossip and may damage the reputations of the claimant, respondent, and the company. More importantly, confidentiality breaches can seriously undermine an investigation’s effectiveness.

2. Define the goal of the investigation and plan accordingly

Defining the goal and scope of an investigation, also known as the terms of reference, at the outset of the process is the key to success. This includes, but is not limited to, defining what the investigation will examine, who will be involved, how the investigation’s conclusions will be presented and who they will be presented to. While this might seem straightforward at the start, determining the investigation’s goal and what is required to reach it can throw up many complexities that need to be considered. For instance, what facts need to be established? Do you need access to stored information? Do you need extra assistance?

Outlining the information presented and identifying what further information is required will help to streamline the investigative process and save complications further down the road. Moreover, defining the goal of the investigation will provide the individual in charge with a structured approach to follow, making it easier for them to stay on track throughout the course of the investigation and reach a resolution as efficiently as possible.

3. Strategise your interview process

In order to gather further evidence or gain differing perspectives on the incident at hand, it is likely that interviewing witnesses will be a key stage in the investigative process. Interviews should be planned carefully to gather sufficient information in the most efficient way possible.

Those running the investigation should interview enough people to ensure a clear decision can be reached, but not too many that it will impact company productivity or spread information. It is also strongly advised to prepare all questions in advance, making sure to customise them for the person being interviewed, their relation to the situation and their own access permissions.

4. Mindset is key

No matter how prepared you are for an investigation when it comes to physical planning and preparation, the mindset that an investigator maintains throughout the process is essential to its success. Investigations can often be long and repetitive, but even the smallest detail cannot afford to be overlooked. One can never know when a key piece of information will be revealed, so maintaining patience and persistence to find the truth is imperative.

Investigators must also keep an appropriately sceptical mindset during interviews, avoiding the assumption that witnesses are telling the truth and so taking their words as fact, but rather waiting until all information is gathered before drawing conclusions.

5. An unbiased approach

Although an investigator should always seek to protect the interests of the company and those who work for it, they must also conduct their investigations without bias or conflict of interest throughout the process. If an investigation is being conducted by an internal member of the company, it is essential to consider whether this individual has any prior connections to the people involved and/or could have any bias towards one party over another.

So as to avoid these risks of bias, many organisations choose to use an independent third party, such as GoodCorporation, to conduct investigations. External, unconnected investigators can provide greater impartiality and eliminate concerns about internal biases affecting the investigation outcome.

6. Objectivity and impartiality

Throughout our lives, it is pretty much a given that we will develop our own beliefs and value systems which then impact the way we move through the world. Whether based on our gender, upbringing, religion or just personal experiences, these values make up who we are and how we act. When it comes to an investigation, these values must be put aside. Investigators and decision-makers cannot let their personal values or beliefs impact how they conduct the investigation or interact with the individuals involved, so it is important to remain as impartial and objective as possible.

GoodCorporation’s Investigation Services

With over 20 years of experience, GoodCorporation offers a comprehensive range of workplace investigation services, from fraud and bribery to bullying and harassment. Our tailor-made and systematic approach ensures thorough and actionable insights to help organisations stay in line with best practice and reach a resolution as smoothly as possible. To learn more about our investigation services, visit our investigations services page or get in touch.