How do I Conduct a Workplace Investigation?

Henry Gaudet

A workplace investigation might be required in response to a complaint of harassment or discrimination, a safety issue or accident in the workplace, a serious violation of company policies and procedures or criminal activity such as theft or vandalism. Inquiries made during a workplace investigation must be made discreetly and in compliance with the relevant legislation to avoid further complication of matters. You will need to be especially familiar with right to privacy laws within the jurisdiction to conduct a workplace investigation.

A workplace investigation may be conducted in response to harassment charges.
A workplace investigation may be conducted in response to harassment charges.

Employers have an obligation to look into all allegations of wrongdoing. Even when presented with an informal complaint, the employer is obliged to look into the matter and a formal workplace investigation may be required. Failure to adequately investigate might leave the employer open to claims of negligence later.

In a workplace setting, it's essential that all employees feel that grievances can be heard without fear of retribution.
In a workplace setting, it's essential that all employees feel that grievances can be heard without fear of retribution.

When a complaint is first presented, documentation is crucial. Similarly, details of accidents or incidents should be written as well. Details might become blurred or forgotten with time, making a written record vital to any workplace investigation. Many businesses and organizations have complaint and incident forms, but in their absence, any written account will suffice.

Depending on the complaint or incident, interviews with witnesses might be necessary during the workplace investigation. Inquiries should be made discreetly and in private. You will need to gather information while still respecting the privacy rights of all involved: the complainant, witnesses and the accused. Questions should be focused on the issue at hand and phrased in an open manner that does not lead to simple yes or no answers.

Physical investigation within the workplace might be appropriate, depending on the nature of the report or incident. Documentation is important here as well, and photographs of an incident or hazard might be required. Again, privacy laws must be respected. An employer’s right to conduct searches in the workplace and similar acts, such as drug testing and surveillance, varies from one jurisdiction to another. If in doubt, you should seek legal consultation before any search or test takes place.

Findings should be compiled into a report. Conclusions should rely on evidence and should not venture into supposition. The report should include an intended course of action to address the incident, wrongdoing or hazard under investigation. The results of the investigation should be shared with the complainant.

The response to the findings of a workplace investigation should focus primarily on correcting the problem. Equipment might require repair or replacement, or new procedures might need to be adopted. In the case of misconduct or wrongdoing, disciplinary action might be required. Depending on the severity and nature of the actions under investigation, law enforcement or regulatory agencies might need to be notified.

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