Ten Tips for Conducting an Effective Investigation

Barbara Richman
July 18, 2007 — 3,586 views  
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The following are ten tips to assist in conducting an effective workplace investigation.

  1. The basic purpose of the investigation is to determine facts necessary to make a workplace decision.
  2. Objectivity is a critical component of the overall process and should be a key determiner in the selection of an investigator.
  3. The investigation should be conducted in a prompt manner to preserve relevant evidence and enable witnesses to more accurately recall the facts.
  4. Preparation for the investigation should include determining the investigator, making a list of potential witnesses, identifying and/or obtaining relevant documents, materials and practices; and developing preliminary questions to be asked. Consideration should be given as to whether to contact legal counsel in developing an overall strategy and/or assisting in the decision-making process.
  5. Anyone with relevant information should be interviewed.
  6. The entire process should be documented, including interviews, evidence and any action that is taken. Throughout, consideration should be given to the question, “How will the evidence and overall process be viewed if a charge or lawsuit results?”
  7. The following “five Ws” should be considered in preparation for the investigation and throughout the process: what happened, when did it happen, where did it happen, who was involved and why did it happen.
  8. Promises of confidentiality should be avoided, and instead, management should explain that information will be shared on a need-to-know basis. Also, it is important to communicate that there will no retaliation for registering a complaint or for participating in the investigation.
  9. The interview should begin with broad, open-ended questions that require more than “yes” or “no” responses and give the witness an opportunity to describe events. Follow-up should include asking more specific questions both to clarify what was said and to “peel back the onion” and obtain additional facts. Questions asked should allow the investigator to determine relevant facts and assess the credibility of information provided.
  10. At the conclusion of the investigation, a written report should be prepared that documents steps followed, information obtained, decisions reached, any actions taken and other pertinent information. If corrective action is taken, it should be administered in a timely manner.

Barbara Richman, SPHR, is a Senior Consultant with HR Mpact, a human resource consulting firm providing services that include training, HR administration, policies and procedures, HR audits, employee/labor relations, and communications.  Training offered by HR Mpact includes: E-mail, Cell Phone, and Other Workplace Etiquette; Respect and Civility in the Workplace; Harassment-Free Workplace; Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Supervisory Training; Conducting Workplace Investigations; and Discipline and Documentation.  Her e-mail address is [email protected] and telephone numbers are 901.685.9084 and 901.496.0462 (cell).

Barbara Richman

HR Mpact