It could be media attention and an increased knowledge of human rights or it could be changes in beliefs about the right to work in a respectful workplace that has made the difference – I don’t know – but what I do know is that employee complaints are increasing and the need for workplace investigations are becoming more common.

Employers will have to learn how to manage investigations better than they have in the past. As a previous human resources practitioner, I dealt with a number of workplace investigations internally for my respective employers. As an external workplace investigator, I have come to realize that what I thought was good investigating would not stand up to the scrutiny of the courts today. I am not saying internal people can’t investigate – what I am saying is that there should be adequate training for those who are tasked with the duty to investigate.

Inexperienced investigators have not done well when challenged by arbitrators and judges because in many cases, their investigations were flawed in some way. Investigating misconduct is not a job to be done off the side of a desk – which admittedly – I know I did previously.

Investigations must be done expediently, thoroughly and impartially with structured processes in place so that you can defend whatever your findings are. Far too often, complaints are not taken as seriously as they should be and there is a tendency to want to ‘talk away’ the complaint. There will be times when mediation or a facilitated conversation will be appropriate but there will be other times when that is not enough. Particularly if a complainant requests a formal investigation or the allegations are more serious. Circumstances will dictate how deep and wide the investigator needs to go in terms of witness interviews and collection of evidence but the process itself must be consistent at all times.

Interviewing is not as simple as one would think either. There are ways to obtain more information from individuals and to obtain the specific information you require. This requires training and practice. One of the problems with internal investigators is that they don’t conduct investigations every day – or at least let’s hope not. This is another reason why learning the techniques is so important. It is always a good idea to refresh skills when they are not used frequently.

Report-writing is another area that requires skill. I know now that I was not as strong as I could have been. Reports need only the facts – and in many cases we insert opinions or make comments that could be viewed as biased. It’s done innocently enough but it’s sometimes enough to question whether the investigation was fair and unbiased. Be sure you don’t present your case as though you were on a ‘witch hunt’ to find information. It’s difficult to keep our emotions in check when bad things happen and we have to get to the bottom of whatever it is.

Don’t fear doing an investigation internally – just get the skills to do the job. When I was in human resources investigations training was not something that was available but that is not the case today. (Take a look at our website to learn more about investigations training – www.simplycommunicating.ca)

It is also advisable to have more than one person trained to do investigations at your workplace – and if serious allegations are brought to you – consider consulting your legal counsel to assist you in the investigation or contact an external investigator who has the requisite skills and knowledge to manage the investigation for you.

It might be worthwhile to do a Google search of workplaces investigations. Take a look at those that went well and were supported versus those that did not go so well and were determined to be faulty. This is definitely going to be skill employers will want to learn or brush up on. With increased awareness of what is and isn’t appropriate in a workplace, there will be an increased requirement for employers to investigate. Be sure you’re ready.