Depite their best efforts to conduct the most comprehensive background check that would indicate an individual’s tendency toward inappropriate or illegal behavior, employers still find themselves having to conduct internal investigations in the workplace due to a multitude of infractions (i.e. theft, violence, sexual harrassment).
When situations that warrant an investigation arise, employers have the opportunity to make or break their workplace etiquette based on how they handle the investigative process. Not only does an employer have the opportunity to improve workplace conditions when an investigation is needed, but he or she has a legal obligation to be fair and thorough. Though no law mandates a formula for how an employer or HR department should conduct internal investigations of employee behavior, some simple guidelines help ease the process and avoid liabilities.
- Employers should try to be objective throughout the entire investigation. Doing so is difficult because ferreting out the truth is an ardous task to put on anyone’s shoulders considering the multitude of incident that can arise in a workplace and the fact that individuals may not be completely honest when trying to protect their livelihoods.
- Documentation is critical. Employers should document their employees’ previous behavior by conducting thorough background screenings, make a record of actions and conversations during an investigation, and use good judgment about which documents from the investigation to maintain.
- Internal workplace investigations should come to a clear conclusion that stands up against the law. If an investigation is not conducted properly, the employer could wind up with a negative reputation or expensive lawsuit. Clear, calculated decisions help avoid litigation and stand up better in court if a party takes legal action.
- Employees should be trained to anticipate and avoid any behavior that might result in an internal investigation. Ignorance about workplace laws and statutes is not an excuse in a court of law.
- Employers should be aware of the legal evolution that surrounds employment laws so that they are adhereing to such standards.
- Before conducting interviews or taking action, an investigation must be planned.