Step 5. Select a qualified investigator.
The person in charge of handling the investigation should be an unbiased party. Many investigations can be conducted internally, but it is essential to evaluate whether the claim puts impartiality at risk. When assigning the investigation to an internal employee, it is highly recommended that they receive training or certification to conduct workplace investigations to ensure a legally sound process.
It is best to contract with a third-party investigator if:
- You do not have a qualified internal investigator
- Your internal investigator has personal relationships with the employees involved
- Allegations concern a senior-level employee that could make the investigator worry about job security
- It will be challenging to avoid bias or the appearance of bias
- There is a significant legal risk
Step 6. Conduct and document interviews.
Outline the questions you want to ask ahead of time. Ensure they are clarifying and open-ended questions. Some details uncovered will be less relevant, and interviews have the potential to get sidetracked. It is important to remain on task and collect only information pertinent to the claim being investigated.
- Interview the complainant.
Gather as many details as possible from the complainant about the allegations. This interview is the complainant’s opportunity to provide their perception of the circumstances and the alleged inappropriate or unlawful conduct. Take note if they indicate that anyone else was present and request any supporting evidence such as pictures, emails, texts, etc. In some cases, this may be an emotionally charged interview; maintain a supportive and non-judgmental posture.
- Interview alleged wrongdoer.
Interviewing the accused will likely be uncomfortable but necessary. The purpose of this interview is solely to gather facts: do not make assumptions. This is an opportunity for the employee to provide their side of the story. It is important to ask open-ended questions and gain insight into the working and personal relationship between the accused and the complainant. Allow them to respond to each complaint made, ask about any potential witnesses, and always remember to document every conversation thoroughly. Review the employee files to identify and address any patterns that may cause concern.
- Interview witnesses.
Collect important and relevant information about the accusations only. Avoid revealing too many details about the complaint. The goal is to uncover any corroborating evidence without influencing the responses.
PLEASE NOTE: All investigation documentation should remain confidential and not be stored in an employee’s personnel file. Do not guarantee confidentiality. Not all information can be kept confidential in a workplace investigation. However, explain that information gathered will be withheld from their personnel files, handled with discretion, and used only to the extent necessary for a thorough investigation.
Step 7. Gather evidence.
Collect all documents related to the investigation, including emails, texts, recorded phone calls, surveillance footage, past complaints, personnel files of the accused and the complainant, and other relevant evidence. It is essential to be detail-oriented and thorough when investigating to uncover the necessary information.
Step 8. Evaluate the collected information.
Determine which statements and evidence are relevant to the investigation and which are not. Include all relevant information in the final report of the workplace investigation. The time it takes to complete a thorough investigation varies depending on the unique circumstances. Keep in mind that there is a delicate balance between being comprehensive and letting an investigation drag on too long.
In some cases, a credibility assessment may be required. When accounts of events differ, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suggests using the following factors to assess witness credibility:
- Corroboration of events.
Are there documents or witness statements that support a version of the events?
Is the individual’s version of the facts believable? Does it make sense?
Does the person have a reason to lie?
- Past record.
Does the person or the accused have a record of inappropriate conduct?