Human resources must investigate employee complaints in the workplace. Complaints can arise for many reasons, including workplace bullying, gossip, intimidation, stealing, and other concerns. An employee may make a complaint if they lose out on a promotion they felt should have gone to them or if another colleague is harassing them.
Setting up a detailed employee investigation process that your human resources team can follow when investigating employee complaints is critical. That way, you can reduce potential mistakes that can prove costly to your business and show you have a fair, uniform process internally.
Importance of the Employee Investigation Complaint Process
When an employee makes a complaint against your business or another colleague, starting an investigation is crucial. In the U.S., laws require companies to investigate complaints expeditiously and with complete impartiality. If you fail to address an employee’s complaint, they may take legal action against you.
Aside from legal action, failing to address an employee complaint isn’t good for your workplace culture. It can lead to a hostile working environment where people feel uncomfortable working together. If problems continue, you may lose some of your key staff members, who will decide to leave for greener pastures.
Steps to Take During a Workplace Investigation
According to a recent poll, nearly 70% of surveyed companies experienced an increase in employee complaints since 2021. If someone files a formal complaint, you’ll want to prepare your organization by establishing workplace investigation procedures.
You need to include a few steps in your workplace investigation to ensure you adequately address and resolve an employee’s complaint satisfactorily.
- Take Action Immediately
In severe complaints, like sexual harassment or workplace bullying, make sure you separate the individuals involved in the complaint from one another. If you continue to allow them to work together, you’re not taking the complaint seriously.
You might consider adjusting their work schedules so they don’t need to interact with one another, or you could move them into separate offices. You can also temporarily change who they report to until you properly investigate the claim.
- Select an Investigator
Next, you’ll want to decide who will handle the investigation. Someone from human resources or the legal team will look into the matter. However, the person who leads the investigation must be completely impartial. They shouldn’t have a prior relationship with either the complainant or the accused. The investigator should remain entirely objective during the process.
- Make an Investigation Plan
Before starting the investigation, the investigator should thoroughly document their plan for handling it. The plan should include a statement of the complaint, people involved, and individuals to interview. The investigator should make provisions for obtaining any available evidence and set a timeframe for completing the investigation.
The investigator must notify the accused of the impending investigation and its reasons. They must also specify the steps in the inquiry. Maintaining confidentiality to the maximum extent possible is critical.
- Decide on the Questions You’ll Ask
Before beginning the investigation, you should decide on any target questions you want to include. Your questions should gently encourage the interviewee to provide their observation of the events that led to the complaint. If there are multiple witnesses, you’ll want to compare their responses to see if you find any discrepancies.
Request the parties involved to provide written statements. Their written statements will provide you with documentation and evidence you can use before deciding on the case’s outcome.
- Fully Document Your Investigation
You’ll want to ensure you fully document each step of your investigation. You should summarize the entire process, including interviews and the evidence gathered. You’ll also want to document any recommended action resulting from the employee’s complaint.
If there are any legal risks as a result of the investigation, you should identify them. If you’re unsure what the legal risks are, you should seek the advice of legal counsel.
- Communicate Investigation Results
Following the investigation, you’ll want to share your recommendation and any specifically required details with the appropriate decision-makers. They’ll decide on the following action and whether disciplinary action is necessary. If they choose to take action that differs from the investigator’s recommendation, they should document why in the complaint report.
Common Mistakes During an Employee Investigation
Employee complaints are serious matters, so you’ll want to avoid mistakes that could impact the credibility of your investigation. Here are a few typical errors to be aware of.
Delaying the Investigation
Once an employee makes a complaint, you can’t let time pass. You must take quick action to start your investigation. If you don’t, the problems could worsen, damaging employee morale and potentially increasing the organization’s liability. Some state laws require businesses to start their investigations within a specific period. You may subject the company to further risk if you don’t comply.
Choosing an Investigator Affiliated with One of the Parties
The investigator chosen to handle the investigation must be completely objective. Someone could challenge its legitimacy if the investigator has any ties to the complainant or the accused person.
You’ll also want to ensure the investigator possesses the proper skills. If their interpersonal skills are poor, or they use harsh tactics that make the witnesses or interviewees uncomfortable, it’s unlikely to result in a positive outcome.
Promising Complete Confidentiality
Investigators usually need to meet with various employees during the investigation stage. They should keep Information the employee shares confidential. However, it’s a mistake to guarantee a witness or other interviewee complete confidentiality.
Sometimes, an investigator must share an employee’s statements with third parties, such as the company’s attorney. Ensure the interviewee is fully aware that you may be unable to maintain complete confidentiality; as a helpful tip, stating you will maintain confidentiality to the maximum extent possible is a good way of wording your commitment.
Have a Dedicated Process for Employee Investigations
While you hope your employees will collaborate well, disputes will arise occasionally. If an employee files a complaint against one of their colleagues or a manager, you’ll want to have a process in place to handle an investigation. Without a documented strategy, you’re putting your company at risk for legal liability.
If you’re an HR team looking for a solid strategy to stay on top of employee investigations, VirgilHR platform can provide you with the necessary resources and tools. Get in touch with us today to learn more and schedule a demo.