Answer: You should initiate the investigation as soon as possible and, likewise, conclude the investigation as quickly as possible. However, the investigation will need to last as long as necessary to ensure a thorough investigation. The timing will also depend on the seriousness of the allegation. For example, violence or threats of violence should be acted upon that day. Promptly beginning and concluding the investigation is important for stopping inappropriate behavior and preserving evidence.
Question: How should an investigator be selected?
Answer: An investigator could be an employee or it may be a third-party. There are many considerations that go into selecting a qualified investigator. First, the investigator, as well as the investigation itself, should be impartial. If the investigator has any biases that would interfere with remaining neutral, you should select a different investigator. Second, the investigator should have knowledge related to best practices for an investigation including laws regarding harassment and retaliation. You should also consider the level and type of expertise needed. For example, an investigation regarding substantive medical practice, you may want an expert with expertise in that area. In general, an attorney is an excellent resource as an investigator because they know when to hire a subject matter expert and when that is not necessary. The investigator will also need to have strong communication skills as he/she will be interviewing witnesses and providing a written or verbal report at the conclusion of the investigation.
Question: Should the investigation be kept confidential?
Answer: Confidentiality sounds great but there are some key things to know about confidentiality in a workplace environment. As an employer, you should never promise full confidentiality but may be able to promise limited confidentiality. This is because an investigator may need to disclose information as a part of the investigation.
If your company needs a workplace investigation, these questions probably only cover the tip of the iceberg. Before beginning a workplace investigation, ensure you consult with an attorney. If you are not aware of the laws surrounding workplace investigations, you could unknowingly open yourself up to liability and more headache down the road. We routinely consult on workplace investigations and would be happy to answer your questions and guide you on how to properly and legally conduct one.