Commentary by Elisa Walerys, WPCR Employee Relations Specialist
Workplace investigations require a thorough, unbiased and procedurally fair approach. There are common mistakes made during all phases of the investigation process that can put the integrity of the investigation at risk.
#1 – Not being responsive
Taking too long to respond to a complaint can lead to a bigger issue developing and the risk of legal intervention. An employer has a duty of care to act promptly and to keep the investigation moving at an adequate pace without any major delays.
#2 – Unclear reporting processes
Lack of company policies and procedures or inadequate communication/training around company policies and procedures can leave an employee with little knowledge about what to do in the case of an incident/complaint. Employees need to know the process for making a complaint and investigators should follow the company’s policy on the handling of these complaints.
#3 – Biased investigator
It is essential to choose individuals who have no relationship, interest or perceived bias to conduct the investigation. Sometimes the HR department may contain individuals that fit this description, otherwise an independent investigator is a more appropriate option.
#4 – Poor interviewing
Experienced investigators hold the key to conducting detailed, useful interviews that explore the allegations in a manner that:
- refrains from leading an interviewee to give a predetermined answer;
- maintains the topic of the interview without allowing the interviewee to wander into irrelevant information; and
- refrains from using affirming language in the interview which can be perceived as bias.
#5 – Skipping the final phase
Post the investigation, an employer needs to provide feedback by way of meeting separately with each complainant and respondent to advise them of the findings of the investigation. Only parties for whom outcomes apply (such as disciplinary action, termination of employment etc.) should be advised of this type of information.