6 Steps to Investigating a Workplace Complaint

Have you noticed that people are so…well, human? Wherever people are, there are going to be problems, which will lead to complaints. And where there are complaints, there will also be the need for you as an employer to investigate to decide on an appropriate response. Conducting an investigation is never enjoyable, but you want to be thorough–and legal–in order to heal the wound and protect morale. The next time there’s a problem in your office, here’s a summary of 6 steps to investigating a workplace complaint, as advised by Krista J. Sterken of Lexology:

  1. Make a plan. Identify the appropriate investigators and interviewees, the questions you will ask, and what documentation you need to collect and review. Establish a timeline for the investigators to follow.
  2. Prepare your investigative team. Instruct your investigators to ask open-ended questions and find out if there are other employees with pertinent information. Caution them to avoid disclosing too much about the complaint under investigation.
  3. Document every interview. Documentation is your friend! Keep detailed notes about every interview you conduct within the investigative process, both for your legal protection and also to aid decision makers at the end of the investigation.
  4. Maintain confidentiality within reason. Warn your team not to promise employees complete confidentiality–that’s an impossible promise to keep. However, they may assure employees that anything discussed will only be shared with those who need to know to ensure that the company can respond to the complaint appropriately. (In a recent conflict-of-interest case, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board ruled that an employer overshared the facts with senior managers, so be sure to adhere to the need-to-know limitation to protect yourself, for example, from a defamation suit.)
  1. Don’t restrict confidentiality. Due to the National Labor Relations Act, employers should not order employees to keep all information about an investigation confidential. However, if special circumstances such as a real risk of retaliation exist, your team may instruct employees to keep the investigation confidential, while documenting their reasons.
  2. Stick to a schedule. Don’t let the matter drag out. Reach a conclusion, then decide what the company’s best response should be, and take action to resolve the matter so everyone can move forward. To help heal the damage that’s been done, Sterkin advises, “Although you may not want to disclose the specific action taken, you should inform the complaining employee that the company has completed the investigation and taken an appropriate response.”

It’s never fun to have to deal with a complaint, but it’s better to close a wound than let it fester. These 6 steps to investigating a workplace complaint can help you address the problem in a timely, legal, and appropriate way.

As an experienced recruitment agency, Amtec often helps with the aftermath of a workplace problem by helping to find a new employee. Click here or call (714) 993-1900 to request an employee or discuss a workforce management issue. However, we don’t profess to be legal experts, so be sure to ask your own attorney for complete legal advice.

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