Skip to Content

Conducting A Workplace Investigation? Beware of These Traps


A botched workplace investigation can create significant headaches for your company. It can raise additional questions instead of providing answers, it can undermine employment relationships, and it can open up your organization to legal liability.

That’s why you should always involve a lawyer who is experienced in conducting workplace investigations when you need to look into claims of workplace policy violations, conflicts between employees, or allegations of harassment. In the meantime, you should be aware of some basic, common mistakes employers make.

One mistake is choosing an inappropriate investigator for the particular allegation. If the issue is too complex for your HR person, or they have a personal relationship with the parties involved, you should assign the investigation to someone such as an attorney who is qualified to conduct it and free from any bias.

Another mistake is dragging your feet. Quickly acknowledge the complaint in writing and start gathering evidence while memories are fresh so you obtain more reliable findings.

Meanwhile, if a particular employee is a target of the investigation, it is important to remember that they have rights as well. It’s best to inform the employee of the investigation quickly, explain in writing the circumstances giving rise to it, provide details of the accusations, and give the employee an opportunity to respond.

Failure to take these steps before imposing consequences could result in the employee in question holding your company accountable in court. At the same time, failure to properly document all interviews, findings, decisions and remedial measures could make it difficult to establish in court that your process was fair.

Finally, one of the biggest mistakes employers make is failing to prevent retaliation against those who report wrongdoing or provide honest answers to investigators. Check in with parties throughout the investigation and afterward to determine if they have experienced any kind of blowback from co-workers or supervisors. If they have, make sure you confer with a lawyer and address the issue as quickly as possible.