About Workplace Investigations

∙ Fact-Finding Investigation Procedures ∙ First Witness Accounts & Interviews ∙ Protecting Employee Rights ∙ Refusal To Provide Signed Statement ∙ Investigation Without Consent or Knowledge ∙ Being Fired or Resign During Investigation ∙ Duration of Workplace Investigations

About Workplace Investigations
Workplace investigations are facilitated by staff from human resources department to uncover information which will be useful to protect the company from punitive damages.

In determining wrongdoing, the company HR may be charged with the authority to conduct an investigation interview on workplace allegations. The interview is intended to gather information from which to determine whether wrongdoing has occurred and, if so, the level of such wrongdoing.

Fact-Finding Investigation Procedures

The general investigation process starts with HR asking questions about the allegations and claims made. It is a priority for the investigating team to plot the chronological sequence of events leading up to the incident and any contact that the accused has had with the victim, witnesses, or other employees.

These investigative interviews are intended to extract information from all potential persons involved or suspected to be in connection with the incident.

First Witness Accounts & Interviews

The first witness accounts are recorded immediately after the alleged incident. The interviewing team will be asked detailed and probing questions as the replies provided is often the most accurate and fresh in the mind. Details of the incident are put on record with what was seen, reactions and responses from individuals and bystanders. Such information is treated as evidence and typically used as a reference against subsequent accounts made by other parties. These interrogative interviews are vital as they help to establish a timeline of events leading to the actual incident. Witnesses are usually requested to identify other potential witnesses who may be able to help in the investigation, to corroborate the facts.

Subsequent interviews may ask more hypothetical questions in order to get a full understanding of the situation and give you an opportunity to expand upon your original narrative. Facts are verified against other accounts with other interviewees. These interviews are often conducted in a more relaxed setting to help the employee feel at ease. Due to this, the interviewees may disclose more information about the incident as well as disclose other details and facts that were not previously considered.

Protecting Employee Rights

Workplace investigations tend to be intrusive and require the employer to delve into intimate details that frequently make the interviewed employees feel uncomfortable. You may feel accused and intimidated to cooperate even though confidentiality is promised. To protect your rights as an employee, you should only reveal facts pertaining to the investigated topic and only reveal when asked. The additional information you willingly offer invites further questioning. Giving info if the investigator did not ask for may be construed as deflective - do you have something to hide since you are changing topics? Be upfront.

Choosing not to answer some or all questions is a riskier option since those at fault will tend not to self-incriminate (i.e. pin the blame on themselves). Also, in any case, don't lie, be truthful - the authentic version of events will always surface with time and credibility issues are tough to explain. In all, workplace investigators have the upper hand and even though employee rights exist, cooperating in interviews remains the best option to preserve whatever rights you have left.

Refusal To Provide Signed Statement

Interviewees are required to sign against the claims they make and facts stated verbally. Signed statements allow a company to prove the validity of the claims and, if signed against the employee's will, may be considered a breach of an employment contract. If you refuse to sign on the statement containing your own transcribed words, your employer may become suspicious of the truth to your words. In fact, if you are paranoid to provide any documented words, then don't talk at all during the interview.

A company is permitted to launch investigations and only involve certain people to restrict the number of people with the knowledge. You may not know that you are the subject of investigation and consent will not be explicitly asked of you to preserve the integrity of the investigation. Unnecessary rumors and media attention will clout the focus and can detract the inquiry. The workplace investigation process can then continue unimpeded. Further, without prior consent and knowledge, the interviewee may be unaware of the investigation and hence not be able to prepare for questions asked during the investigation. Facts are divulged quicker and without hidden intentions - i.e. a fairer and more effective investigation. Most of the time, companies conduct investigations without informing employees as it would cause less harm when conducted in secret.

Being Fired or Resign During Investigation

The resignation clause in your employment contract usually states that employees are not allowed to resign if they are a subject of an ongoing investigation. The reason is to ensure the employee's continued cooperation and participation in the investigation. For employees who are fearful of being fired, losing their job may be a deterrent to turning in information that is necessary to push the investigation forward. If an employee leaves without notice (or informing anyone), the investigation will continue with the remaining employees, and their answers to further questions will be educated guesses and evaluated.

Duration of Workplace Investigations

The length of time for workplace investigations depends on the level of severity of the allegations and the extent of evidence. Corporate ethics counselors are unlikely to conduct investigations for less than two weeks. For more serious allegations, particularly sexual harassment or sexual assault, an investigation may take longer from a month to half a year.

Workplace Investigation Process

To summarise the process, HR staff and departmental managers are charged with authority as investigators to act on behalf of the company to conduct fact-finding interviews and retrieve electronic and physical records to determine the timeline of events. The process terminates when a report with the investigation outcome is determined, complete with interview notes, signed statements of relevant parties, full investigation plans, and any other documents deemed relevant.

Disciplinary Actions

The investigation report is submitted to senior officers who will review the outcome and determine if policies have been breached. Corrective actions are considered holistically. Any disciplinary actions taken are subject to the severity of facts and actions. In severe cases, such as sexual assault or misconduct, physical disciplinary action such as being fired or demoted may be taken in accordance with company policies. For less serious cases where no breach has been proven, measures such as warnings, counseling sessions, or written reprimands are used to discipline staff.

Subscribe to Interview Question

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.
[email protected]