Conducting Effective Workplace Investigations


In today’s complex work environment, it is inevitable that a supervisor, manager, or human resources representative will have to conduct a workplace investigations. Simply put, investigations are fact-finding missions. Whether the facts are known or there is simply suspicion of misconduct, managers must be able to prove their position with clear and specific facts before taking action. In the process of conducting an investigation, information will be discovered that will support or refute wrongdoing. With all the information in hand, the investigator can discipline the employee or document any wrongdoing and close the investigation.

This series will outline the benefits and nine steps of conducting a thorough legal investigation.

When should you investigate?

Investigations come in all sizes, shapes, and forms. Sometimes they require a minimal amount of investigation, such as verifying tardies or absences; and other times a little more action is required, such as providing evidence of poor job performance. There are other circumstances that would also trigger an investigation, such as bullying, which is not yet illegal, but could be dangerous and disruptive and should be addressed as serious and threatening behavior.

However, there are times when formal investigations are mandatory. The following is a sampling of circumstances that would require a  workplace investigations:

Suspicion of illegal activities;

Violence or threats of violence;

Suspected substance abuse;

On-the-job injuries;

Claims of discrimination or harassment.

Provide a safe work environment

Businesses have a duty to provide as safe a workplace as reasonably possible. When someone or something is harmed or threatened by an organization’s operations, the company has a duty to investigate; You can’t stand by and wait for an employee to step up with problems or concerns.

Employers are expected to investigate if they suspect problems or problems exist. In fact, through repeated court decisions, the duty to respond is so clear that an employee cannot prevent management from taking action. In 2000, the EEOC stated: “Under federal law, an employer’s failure to investigate may allow a jury to hold the employer liable. Once senior management learns of the problem, they may face civil liability if they fail to investigate.” the problem, and act to prevent recurrence or expansion.

Even if the victim does not come forward or does not wish to participate, there is still a duty to investigate. Whether it is an informal or formal process, management is responsible for ensuring that employees follow corporate policies and for providing a safe work environment.

Ultimately, liability for workplace problems depends on the employer’s response to them. Companies that ignore misconduct or security issues can face significant consequences for their inaction. Conversely, liability can be significantly limited if an employer can show that it responded quickly to a problem.

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