A situation occurs in the workplace. There is confusion about what exactly occurred and who was involved. But the current state of affairs is that work productivity is affected because everyone is talking about it. This is why you need workplace investigations: using a PEACEful solution! Many events will subside by themselves if not given attention which is simply avoidance.

But what if the situation involves company policies or employment laws? Were they broken or not? Is the company liable for employee actions? The company cannot avoid this kind of a situation and must take preliminary action to understand through an investigation of the situation and the employees involved. The key members needing to be involved are the human resources leader, the top management, the risk manager, and the in-house attorney if there is one. If the company is organized, review the labor agreement and determine how and at what step the union may need to be involved.

Large employers know the value of conducting professional workplace investigations. Small businesses and growing businesses want to ensure that employee engagement and morale remains positive. As they add staff it is typical that more problems will occur. Employment law attorneys recommend a comprehensive investigation be conducted by a neutral party to evaluate what happened and issue a report with recommendations. What are the kinds of outlier issues that need an investigation? Here are some typical ones: sudden attitude problems, claims about substance abuse, discrimination complaints, harassment complaints, threats against others, vandalism and other sabotage, violations of work rules, safety problems, workplace theft, etc.

So, the first step is to determine if an investigation is needed. The second step is to know if state or federal laws require an investigation. The third step is to maintain privacy and confidentiality—this is critical of everyone involved! The fourth step is to determine which methodology to use. And the fifth step is to pull it all together in a comprehensive report.

Conducting an interview to gather information is a traditional method of determining causes and effects. Let’s review a method of interviewing called PEACE interviewing. PEACE stands for Planning, Engage, Explain, Account, Closure, and Evaluation. This method originated with the police in the United Kingdom and has been adopted and used now around the world.

1. Preparation and Planning. Interviewers should create a written interview plan, listing issues such as the objectives of the interview and the order of interviews as well as the location where the interviews will take place.

2. Engage and Explain. Interviewers should engage the individual, including using active listening to establish a rapport with each interviewee. Explain the reasons for the interview and its objectives. Answer questions. Set the stage. And encourage the interviewee to provide all relevant information.

3. Account. The interviewers should use appropriate questions and active listening to obtain the interviewee’s account of events: who, what, when, where, why…maybe how.

4. Closure. Interviewers should summarize the person’s account of events, allowing the person to make clarifications and ask questions.

5. Evaluate. Interviewers should evaluate the interview to (a) assess how the interviewee’s account fits in with the investigation, (b) determine if further action is needed, and (c) reflect on the interviewee’s performance, both verbal and body language.

It is important that a company (through its top management team) should be committed to acting on the results of an investigation, whether that means retaining outside counsel to perform a detailed legal review of policies and possibly be available to launch a defense, putting together internal project teams to create or update policies and procedures, designing training courses targeted to minimize risk, delivering discipline up to and including discharge, or writing a series of employee communications to address some of the issues discovered, without compromising confidentiality. Top-down support guarantees a successful investigation and follow-up process.

It is best to be preemptive with and not wait until you get a lawsuit to arrange for a workplace investigation. If more information is needed or to locate a workplace investigator, the Association of Workplace Investigators is a good resource (awi.org).

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