Protecting Your Rights And Interests, No Matter The Issue

What you need to know about a workplace investigation

On Behalf of | Jan 20, 2022 | Employment Law |

After you raise a complaint with your Human Resources department about a situation that you are experiencing at work, the company, whether through its internal HR department or a third party, is supposed to “investigate” the complaint.  I put the term “investigate” in quotations because that means something entirely different to your company than it does to you. Knowing your employee rights can get you far, despite the odds.

Your understanding of the word leads you to believe that HR will conduct a fair and balanced, neutral investigation of the issues that you have raised in your complaint.  To you, this means that they will talk to each person that you have identified as having relevant information to your claim, review the volumes of documents that you have provided, and conclude that you have suffered some negative treatment and reprimand the bad actors involved.  Realistically, this never happens.

The more likely scenario is that the investigator will speak with you on a recorded line to get your statement.  They will ask you some vague questions that you will think seem irrelevant to the issue that you have raised, and may even raise some performance issues raised by your manager against you, which you are likely going to be unprepared to discuss.  Once the interview has concluded, you will not hear back on a conclusion if your claims are found to have merit.  The matter will be handled internally and will simply go away.  The more likely scenario is that you will hear back from HR when they claim that their investigation did not find your claims to have merit and that they are closing their file on the issue.  They will never tell you what went into their investigative process, who they spoke with, and what was said to them. They will claim employee confidentiality and the need to protect the process. 

When you receive this response, rest assured that this is the response that 99% of employees get from HR when raising a workplace issue.  Also, understand the job of HR in conducting the investigation to assess the risk to the company from your complaint which involves (a) finding out if you can actually prove your complaint easily; (b) finding out if anyone witnessed the offending behavior, thereby helping you prove your claim; (c) finding out if anyone would be willing to support you against the company (that writes their paychecks); and (d) assessing whether the bad actor is actually a risk to the company.  In most instances, the company will bank off the fact that you are not going to take the claim further, that no one else will support you (even though they tell you that they will), and that the issue will end.  

The Bottomline

Understanding the realities of this process will help you better protect yourself.  The more flawed the HR investigation, the stronger your claim against the company.  But you need to document your concerns regarding the facts of the case as well as the investigation.  You will also want to ask that all video and audio recordings, emails, texts etc. that may be related to your claims be preserved should you need them in litigation.  Finally, you will want to keep a “real time” record of your experience throughout the “investigation” so that you can refer to it later in the process. Good luck!