When you are on the receiving end of a complaint or an allegation that an employee violated one or more company policies or laws, it’s important to conduct a thorough and fair investigation into the matter. Doing so can help you identify if any further action is warranted, and when they’re done correctly, your internal investigations can also help shield the company from legal liability in the event an employee (or former employee) raises the matter in court.
While it is important to conduct a complete investigation – evaluating evidence and interviewing witnesses or others who may have knowledge that can shed light on what occurred, it’s also important not to let an investigation drag on unnecessarily long. Starting the investigation promptly, and keeping it moving, are important for several reasons.
Effect on the Alleged Wrongdoer
Until you’ve reviewed all of the evidence, you can’t make a determination as to how to proceed. An internal investigation can be nerve-wracking for everyone involved, but perhaps nobody more so than the employee who is the primary subject of the investigation. For the accused employee, even the speediest internal investigation likely feels like it takes too long.
Because the outcome of the investigation may impact the employee’s career, both in the short-term and potentially for a longer time period, coming to a speedy (but still thorough) resolution matters. If the employee is found to be innocent of the allegations, closing out the investigation will allow him or her to move on. In situations where the evidence indicates the employee is guilty, bringing the investigation to a natural conclusion as quickly as possible allows the company to take swift action.
Impact on Other Involved Employees
Sometimes, investigators are well aware of the impact of the investigation on the alleged wrongdoer, but don’t think about how an open and ongoing investigation impacts other employees who are involved in some manner.
For the complainant/accuser, and for anyone involved as a witness, internal investigations can be stressful. The person who raised the allegations usually wants resolution quickly – often before you are actually ready to make an informed determination. Witnesses may also be on edge, knowing that their interview answers and any other information provided to the investigator will play a role in the outcome of the investigation.
Resolving open investigations as quickly as possible can ease these employees’ stress levels, helping get productivity back to pre-complaint levels.
Employee Morale and Company Culture
Finally, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the investigation, and the eventual resolution of it, will only affect the employees who are directly involved in it. Even when confidentiality is strictly maintained (as it should be), other employees are often aware that there is some sort of investigation going on.
When your company demonstrates that it is committed to conducting investigations that are thorough and complete, and also committed to keeping those investigations moving as quickly as possible, your greater employee base will be more comfortable and confident at work. Simply knowing that your company takes complaints and investigations seriously can be a boon for employee morale and company culture.
“Fresh” Evidence and Information
Finally, the potential impact of an investigation that takes longer than it needs to goes beyond the alleged wrongdoer, witnesses and other employees. The evidence you need to collect and evaluate is never going to be more fresh than it is when you receive the complaint or allegation of misconduct. The longer the company waits the harder it is to determine what actually happened. If the company waits, they also run the risk of looking like the issue is being swept under the rug or ignored completely. Acting quickly can help ensure the ultimate determination is based on complete information and show the company is capable of a swift, fair decision.
Conducting a thorough investigation – and doing so quickly – will help everyone be able to move forward.