More policies, clearer rules, and a better understanding of HR’s role in supporting a safe working environment for all employees have led to an increase in employees submitting complaints. Employees have a clearer understanding of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, and they understand how HR can support them.

To truly support employees and create a safe working environment, though, HR must address a need to conclude investigations in a timely manner and a need to conduct them in a fair way.

HR’s investigation process must thus be balanced. It needs to be laid out clearly so that HR staff can proceed quickly, but it also needs to be built in such a way that it allows for thorough and fair investigation into every claim.

These steps should assist your team in carrying out investigations in both a timely and a fair manner.

Ensure Confidentiality and Interim Protection

An employee who raises a complaint may not wish to pursue the matter for fear of retaliation. This is why it’s important for the HR team to establish confidentiality and interim protection for any employee who raises a complaint that leads to an investigation.

It may not be possible to keep all information confidential during the investigation process. The accuser might become known to the accused during the process, due to discussions of incidents or other details. It could be necessary to reveal this information in order to properly conduct the investigation.

Employees must be protected in case the accused decides to take action. This is especially an issue if the accused is a supervisor or manager. They may attempt to retaliate against the employee. You might have to separate the employee, although this must be done carefully.

Select an Investigator

The investigation should be handled carefully and in a non-biased manner. Investigators should not have a stake in the outcome, nor should they have a direct relationship with either party.

They should also be knowledgeable in HR law and policies, as well as possessing strong interpersonal skills and be attentive to detail.

It might be wise to hire an outside investigator, especially if a neutral party cannot be found within the HR department. An internal investigator could be influenced by the employee, the accused, or even others who have personal stakes in the outcome of the investigation. You should consider hiring outside investigators if the HR department doesn’t have the necessary background knowledge in law.

In some cases, it might be prudent to conduct both an internal and external investigation. A team approach can draw in investigators from departments such as HR and security, as well as outside experts.

Planning and Interviewing

HR should make arrangements to conduct interviews with the persons involved, as well as witnesses. They should take steps to ensure confidentiality, such as booking a conference room.

The next step is to develop interview questions. Different questions will be needed for the accused, the accuser, and witnesses. Open-ended questions are best, as they tend to elicit more information. Good questions are also relevant and help draw out facts. Be careful not ask leading questions.

You may need to add more questions or conduct additional interviews as more evidence emerges.

Interviews should be conducted in such a way to gather facts. Investigators should not attempt to push the investigation one way or another.

Making a Decision

Once interviews have been conducted, the investigator or the investigation team will need to review the collected evidence. Consideration must be given to each employee’s credibility. Investigators should pay close attention to inconsistencies in stories and details that do not align between accounts.

Once the evidence has been reviewed, the team can make a decision and close the investigation. Employees will be notified of the decision and steps should be taken to resolve the issue in such a way that the complainant feels comfortable in the work environment.

An HR investigation process might be stressful, but following this outline can make it simpler.