Prevent an HR Investigation

How Do I Prevent an HR Investigation?

As a workplace investigator, I get asked, “How do you prevent an HR investigation? I have heard many employers and managers say……. “if I had known I was going to have to conduct an investigation, I would have………”.

Of course, no employer or manager wants to be in a situation where a workplace investigation is necessary.  But the reality is, it happens.  There are day-to-day managerial activities that you can do to prevent investigations or make them a little easier if one is necessary.  Three of these are as follows:

Documentation

Dawn, How do I prevent an HR investigation? My most significant advice is to document, document, document, and keep records of employee activities. 

  • recap conversations with employees or incidents involving employees in emails and send a draft to them asking for confirmation or acknowledgement of your recollection;
  • thoroughly document any “critical conversations”, performance-related actions, or conversations (good or bad) with staff and have those involved sign off on these; and
  • keep thorough and up-to-date training logs and attendance records.

Documentation is a key form of evidence in most investigations.  It can corroborate that policy was, or was not, followed, and it can provide the evidence necessary to substantiate allegations.  For example, if there are no witnesses to a particular allegation, documented notes of conversations related to the allegation can help determine what occurred, especially if both parties involved have acknowledged or signed off on them. As another example, in a case where an employee is being accused of misbehaviour in the workplace, but it can be proven through attendance records that they were away from the office that day, that documentation will clearly support the employee’s innocence. 

Address Issues

Ok, good advice, but how else do I prevent an HR investigation? As a manager or employer, it is vitally important that all issues are:

  • addressed;
  • discussed; and
  • resolved.

in a timely manner.  Investigations are often a result of festering issues that were never adequately addressed.  As difficult as it may be, as a manager, you must either facilitate conversations between those in conflict or speak to your staff that are underperforming or have other issues.  The purpose of these conversations is to identify the issue and create a plan for resolution before it becomes so big that a formal complaint is lodged and an investigation is required.

Policies

Can policies help me prevent an HR investigation? Up-to-date policies that detail what is or what is not considered appropriate behaviour in the workplace can make employees aware of what is and what is not acceptable and therefore prevent behaviours that may trigger an investigation.  In addition, specific to workplace harassment, policies can have an emphasis on prevention.  They can list preventative activities such as speaking to the alleged harasser and directing them to “stop” or asking a manager for help.  These open the door for resolution before activities escalates to requiring an investigation. 

Policies also are a useful tool for investigators to use while investigating to measure what is and what is not considered acceptable within your particular workplace.  They can also provide direction for the investigators with reference to how to conduct the investigation and provide insight into which behaviours constitute a breach of policy.  Specific to workplace harassment, Saskatchewan Labour Standards has a guide that employers can use to write or strengthen their harassment policy.  This guide can be found at:

https://pubsaskdev.blob.core.windows.net/pubsask-prod/109297/109297-Harassment_Prevention_Guide.pdf

Documentation, addressing issues and having adequate policies can prevent investigations or make them a little easier once they are necessary. If you are an employer or manager and you have received a complaint, you may want to read The 6 Steps for Employers or Managers to Take After Receiving a Harassment Complaint. Employees may wish to read Steps For an Employee to Take When Dealing With Workplace Harassment.  If you would like further information or if you have questions, please email or call Dawn at 844.842.4949 for more information.

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