Workplace Investigations – Don’t Go at Them Alone!

Recent movements throughout North America have provided a voice to employees that are being listened to for the benefit of all. Allegation, Speculation, Fraud, Misconduct, Inappropriate Behaviour, Disorderly conduct, Unacceptable policies, Harassment are all words that have suddenly become more common in the workplace and must be taken seriously. Whether employees are in a non-profit, unionized, private or workplace, the possibility of having a complaint brought forward by an employee or a group is a reality, and companies must be well equipped to act accordingly.

In enters, the workplace investigation.

Although the term may engender feelings of stress, a workplace investigation should bring with it the truth, provide learnings as to what is really happening within the culture of the company and ultimately provide for appropriate solutions to address the situation and improve the workplace environment for all. "In the last 8 weeks, the number of calls we have received to the office, asking for assistance with a situation that has been brought forward by an employee, has quadrupled," says Barbara Bowes, President with Legacy Bowes Group. "We’re here to help. Whether it is the human resource manager or the owner of a company who calls us, they are seeking guidance and insight for the complaint that they know is serious and they want to treat it appropriately."

Workplace investigations conducted by a 3rd party allows the employer and the employee a greater degree of confidence in the process and the final outcome. An employer’s reputation is at stake if an investigation is not done well and a misconduct is not thoroughly explored and addressed. Every person involved in a workplace investigation is focused on a positive end result. Understanding this should make entering into such an investigation less stressful than one would initially feel. The goal is to find the truth and then find a solution that the employee and the employer can embrace.

Speaking to the individual who has come forward, and gathering as much information as possible is key in order to plan out next steps. If the decision is to go forward with an investigation, it must then be planned out. An analysis of the situation is needed in order to determine scope. This planning will ultimately ensure fairness in the process. Whether it is a situation or based on a policy, evidence may be needed later on if legal matters arise and therefore, the level of detail and approach must be appropriate. The intent is to protect the innocent, yet uncover the details so as to make the best decisions at the end of the analysis of the information.

Next, the interview process must be planned out: who will be spoken to - the information provider, the witnesses, and the implicated person. As well, the order of the interviews; how many interviews must be conducted; how the interview will be conducted; and finally the questions that will be used to uncover the details and the truth must be developed. Documents must also then be gathered that are relevant to gathering the facts – email records, policy documents, and personnel files - are all examples of what may be useful to substantiate the interviews and the information gathered.

Finally, evaluating the information and create documentation in a logical and factual way is necessary so as to not include opinions, but rather assess the credibility of the witnesses, the relevancy of the facts and consider the motivations present. The information needs to be provided in a clear manner that is concise, detailed and above all else correct so that the final report does not need any other supporting documents to convey its position.

When working with our clients, whether in developing a strategic plan or in conducting an executive search, we end up spending a great detail of time with them and getting to know their employees throughout the process. Several months of being in their offices allows us an opportunity to understand the climate and culture of the company as we work with them to complete our project. In the past several months, the number of times, that we have had to reschedule project work with a client or begin additional, parallel work so that a complaint that has just surfaced can be addressed, has also increased. "I want my clients to know, that we are here to help, in this area as well." offers, Lisa Cefali, Partner at Legacy Bowes Group. "We have experienced people on our team that I can bring in immediately to assist with a workplace Investigation and have it completed with sensitively and diligence, so as to achieve a positive outcome for all where everyone can return to their everyday routine." A company’s brand, an employee’s reputation, and the workplace environment needs to be preserved, protected and positive. An investigation must be handled delicately and professionally so that adjustments can be made if needed. Engaging with a partner you can bring in and trust to help you in this area, makes for good business. So why go at it alone?

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