Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
(Editor’s Note: Today’s article is brought to you by our friends at Case IQ (formerly i-Sight), a leading provider of case management solutions that helps companies manage the process and workflow of investigators collecting and analyzing information related to a case, with the goal of resolving issues, managing risk, and identifying opportunities for improvement. Enjoy the read!)
Workplace investigations are an important activity for human resources departments. Even if you don’t do them all the time, it’s important to be trained on how to properly conduct an investigation. And even when we – as HR professionals – don’t personally conduct the investigation it’s still important that we know the process. For example, it’s possible that given the nature of the investigation and individuals involved, we might want to use an external resource like a consultant or attorney.
Today, I want to focus on one specific and critical step in the investigation process. And it might not be the one you expect. I want to focus on the last step, which is closing the investigation. But before we do, let’s do a quick recap of the investigation process.
PRE-INVESTIGATION. When HR hears about a concern or complaint, there are a few things they need to do starting with evaluating whether an investigation is necessary. Sometimes an employee might share a concern and they simply need good information like being educated on a policy they’re not aware of.
During the pre-investigation phase, a plan should be developed. This includes who will be involved on the investigations team, the objective, and the timeline. Sometimes an investigation is driven by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) but other times, there needs to be some sort of plan and timeline to keep things on track.
INVESTIGATION. Provided that it’s determined an investigation is necessary, then the information gathering begins. HR will collect data from existing systems and files. It’s not uncommon to review employee files or previous investigation files. Then the investigations team will conduct interviews.
ANALYSIS. From the information gathered during the investigations phase, the findings will be analyzed, and recommendations developed. There are two kinds of recommendations. The first type is related to the objective of the investigation (i.e., was the claim/concern substantiated?). The second is related to the process (for example, maybe the company had to do a video interview for the first time. Any recommendations for future workplace investigations?).
This brings us to closing the investigation. The recommendations (above) will determine what action the organization decides to take regarding the investigation itself (i.e., disciplinary action, termination, etc.). It will also provide some discussion about how to handle future investigations. For example, the organization might find that they were impressed with the work of the outside consultant and want to use them more often.
The organization will also want to consider whether the details of this investigation would be a good scenario to “sanitize” and use in future training sessions. One of the challenges I hear about training content is that custom training programs are expensive and off-the-shelf training programs aren’t specific enough. Organizations might be able to remove identifying information from internal incidents and use them as case studies in training programs.
Next, HR needs to close the loop with key stakeholders:
- This includes the person who voiced the concern / complaint. Regardless of the outcome, they need to know the organization took their concern seriously.
- The individual(s) who were the subject of the concern / complaint. Especially if the investigation was inconclusive or did not substantiate the complaint.
- The people who were interviewed during the investigation.
- With key managers whose employees were a part of the investigation
When talking with individuals about the investigation there are three key messages to get across:
- Thanking them for their patience, support, and participation.
- Reminding them that the investigation should remain confidential.
- Letting them know the organization has zero-tolerance for retaliation.
HR will be responsible for preparing any final documentation. Whether the investigation was conducted by HR or an outside party, the documentation needs to be collected and filed. As a side note: If you’re looking for the best way to maintain your investigation files, you should speak with your friendly labor attorney.
This is also a good time to log the final outcomes of the investigation into a case management solution. And I don’t mean your human resources information system (HRIS). A case management solution would be searchable so you can refer to past decisions to maintain consistency and compliance. HR can also use a case management solution to look for trends and potentially identify a pattern that needs to be examined further. It’s an opportunity to proactively address trends before they become concerns / complaints and turn into investigations.
It might be very tempting to simply say, “Investigation over, employee fired, we’re done.” Or “Investigation over, didn’t find anything, we’re done.” That’s not true. Wrapping up an investigation does several things.
- It lets interested parties know the investigation is finalized. They deserve to know.
- It tells the organization that complaints and concerns will be taken seriously and will be looked into.
- Employees will not share their concerns if they don’t feel that HR and the company will listen.
- The employee might choose to leave the company. Or decide to share their concerns with an outside party, like a lawyer or government agency.
By properly conducting and tracking investigations, the organization can look at data relating to how many investigations the organization is doing, how long they take, what they are related to, and more. The organization is positioned to proactively address workplace issues that could result in fewer investigations overall. And increase employee engagement.
If you want to learn more about workplace investigations and in particular, how your investigations process can help the organization proactively address employee concerns, check out this Case IQ ebook on the Investigations Maturity Model. Also, I recently conducted a webinar with Case IQ on organizational ethics and workplace investigations where we spent some time talking about how to properly wrap up an investigation. You can listen here. I hope you will.68