Investigations are an important part of workplace management. The value of a proper investigation can play a pivotal role in the imposition of discipline (and any subsequent challenge to such discipline) and provides an important safeguard to employees’ right to procedural fairness. An employer that conducts an improper investigation leaves itself exposed to potential liability and other negative consequences, including a successful claim for punitive damages, human rights complaint(s), civil legal action, or grievance. An effective and fair workplace investigation results in a solid conclusion based on which the employer can take decisive and appropriate action without future consequences.
An employer is bound by principles of procedural fairness in imposing discipline. That is an obligation on the employer to investigate the circumstances before disciplining an employee. An employer should carry out a workplace investigation whenever there is or may be some form of employee misconduct or inappropriate workplace behaviour such as harassment, Sexual Harassment or being under the influence.
Implementing a systematic investigation framework helps ensure the overarching investigation principles are respected and the investigation is properly conducted.
Objective. Ensure both the organization and the investigator are clear about its objective from the outset. This guides the investigator’s work and reduces the likelihood the investigation will deteriorate into a fishing expedition and avoid wasted time and resources.
The investigator and employer should address any preliminary issues before embarking on the investigation interviews.
Assessment. Assess the complaint by considering its nature, who’s involved, and what workplace policies come into play. The employer should also assess the interim employment status of both parties. If the complainant doesn’t feel safe in the workplace, consider transferring them to another area in the workplace or to granting a leave of absence.
The interviews are often the most crucial stage of the investigation because the investigator typically obtains most of their information here and can assess the witnesses’ credibility.
Preparation. Advance preparation is key to an interview that yields useful and credible evidence to aid in the investigation.
Complete the investigation – conduct all necessary interviews and obtain all relevant documents – as soon as possible.