Workplace Investigations: Recognizing the Challenges to Conducting Effective and Thorough Investigations
In today’s work environment, managers and human resource professionals are faced with numerous challenges: managing a multi-cultural, multi-generational workforce, handling employee work/life balance issues, resolving employee conflict, keeping pace with rapid organizational change, and managing within the boundaries of employment laws that didn’t even exist 15 years ago. Unfortunately, most managers lack these contemporary skills necessary to manage today’s workforce–and internal investigations and wrongful termination lawsuits are on the rise.
In the majority of organizations today, the task of conducting internal investigations falls to the human resource department. Unfortunately, most human resource professionals lack the necessary expertise to conduct an effective, thorough investigation that will hold up in court. Most possess knowledge of the various employment laws, company policies, and even handle a myriad of employee relation issues. However, in conducting investigations, the majority of professionals admit they “haven’t been trained” in how to ask the right questions, document testimony, and put it all together. Moreover, a great number of human resource professionals must balance their regular departmental duties with conducting investigations. This balancing act can, in some cases, jeopardize the effectiveness of investigations. As an example, if an investigation is concluded prematurely due to time constraints or competing departmental priorities, it is possible that an incorrect conclusion could have been drawn and the courts could view the organization as not having taken “reasonable care” during the investigation. Organizations that cannot demonstrate reasonable care was taken to conduct a prompt, thorough investigation are at risk for increased legal liability and cost.
In other organizations (predominantly public sector) special security teams, safety and compliance teams, or special investigative units are usually tasked with conducting investigations. In these environments, investigators tend to possess law enforcement and/or military backgrounds. These backgrounds provide a solid foundation of knowledge in conducting thorough and legally sound investigations. However, sometimes these specialized teams lack the knowledge regarding anti-harassment and discrimination laws and must collaborate with human resource professionals. A few problems can arise during the collaboration process: “turf wars”, breaches in confidentiality, duplication of roles, and power struggles. In order to conduct effective investigations that–minimize liability–it is essential that each investigation team is well trained, organized, has a designated leader, recognizes the need for effective collaboration, and follows the same investigative process.
–Natalie Ivey, President & CEO
Results Performance Consulting, Inc.
Natalie Ivey is President & CEO of RPC, (www.rpchr.com) a Boca Raton-based company that helps employers manage, train, and retain employees. Ms. Ivey is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), and has more than twenty years of leadership and HR experience with Fortune 500 organizations.