In the workplace, situations including alleged discrimination, harassment, bullying or abuse, misconduct, fraud, policy breaches, and many others can arise, triggering the need for an investigation. These situations are often handled internally through informal discussions or internal investigations conducted by company managers. However, since some managers and leaders are not experienced in conducting thorough investigations, basic investigative steps may be overlooked, worsening the issue.
An employer should be able to recognize when a formal investigation needs to be conducted by an external investigator. According to Lisa Corrente from the Association of Workplace Investigations, the need for an external investigator arises mainly when:
1. The Allegations are Serious
Serious allegations, such as ones relating to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, affect the reputation of the employees involved, and they may be at risk of being terminated or facing criminal prosecution. Also, the more serious the allegation, the more lawyers will try to scrutinize the investigation. Therefore, when an employer (or the organization’s employee) is subject to a serious allegation, and appropriate internal investigation resources don’t exist, the employer should ensure that a licensed and experienced external investigator conducts an impartial and thorough investigation capable of withstanding scrutiny; thus, satisfying the employer’s obligation to conduct an investigation into the matter which reduces the employer’s legal liability risk exposure.
2. The Stakes are High
Serious allegations affect the individuals involved and the employer’s business and reputation. Employers may be exposed to civil or criminal liability and potentially lose their operating license, be required to take corrective actions or pay fines for the fault of an employee’s wrongdoing.
When the stakes are high, employers need an external investigator skilled in gathering relevant evidence, identifying the core allegations, providing an objective assessment, and delivering a full investigation report. Doing so will help demonstrate that the employer correctly addressed the matter and potentially minimized the monetary and reputational losses.
3. The Need for Impartiality
Impartiality is an essential characteristic of a proper investigation. An impartial investigation aims to provide an equitable process for the complainant and respondent to ensure reasoned and factual findings based on the information gathered. When an internal investigator handles the complaint, the perception of impartiality can be affected because they likely have a connection to the involved parties, making it easier to be perceived as biased.
An external investigator, however, will be seen as neutral and impartial, making it unlikely that the investigation will be scrutinized for being perceived as biased. Additionally, it is more likely for a witness to open up and reveal more information when they perceive that the investigator is impartial and neutral.
4. Lack of Training and Experience
An investigator must possess:
The adequate training and experience to conduct an investigation and reach a conclusion based on the preponderance of the evidence gathered; the investigator must be skilled in assessing credibility and analyzing the factual evidence.
Security policies and measures to guarantee that the information is preserved securely and efficiently.
Experience dealing with uncooperative or distressed witnesses, involved parties seeking to take control of the investigation process, and helping to prevent possible retaliation against an involved party.
5. Lack of Time or Resources
Time is essential to every investigation because it needs to be conducted promptly and thoroughly to avoid pitfalls and potentially losing evidence because of no longer being able to reach a witness, lost or destroyed evidence, faded or tempered memories, or other external factors. In addition, since internal investigators are not solely dedicated to the function of internal workplace investigations, other work-related duties and responsibilities could delay the investigation process.
6. Simplifying Litigation
Employers are exposed to legal disputes and liability; hence, an external investigator can help save money in the long run. When a confidential investigation report is impartial, unbiased, and well-conducted –typically accomplished by experienced external workplace investigators – adjudicators can rely on the findings in an investigation to determine issues of employer liability, dismiss complaints, and be issued as evidence.
7. Avoiding the Consequences of a Flawed Investigation
According to Corrente*, a flawed investigation can put employers at risk of “lawsuits for wrongful dismissal, infliction of emotional distress, breach of privacy, defamation and other claims.” Therefore, engaging an experienced workplace investigator to conduct a proper investigation can be seen as an investment to minimize potential legal processes that could damage your company and do the right thing.
8. Rebuilding Trust and Morale
Serious allegations can hurt workplace morale. When an employer fails to address the situation and conduct an impartial, unbiased, and thorough investigation, it increases the risks of a toxic work environment; employees need to be certain that when filing a complaint, their concerns will be taken seriously. Hiring a professional and experienced external investigator to conduct an investigation after a harassment, discrimination, or retaliation complaint helps promote employee confidence and trust.
Why Choose California Labor Solutions?
At California Labor Solutions (CLS), we take HR consulting to the next level by offering affordable Premium California Licensed Workplace Investigations. We have extensive experience conducting neutral, impartial, unbiased, and thorough workplace investigations in a wide variety of subject areas (such as employee misconduct and employee complaints of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation) and industries (including the private sector and public/local government sector).
California Labor Solutions is one of the only HR firms in California that is licensed* to provide external workplace investigations. Avoid the risk and do it right the first time. CLS is your best option for affordable, premium workplace investigation services.
*California Private Investigator License Number 26311.