How To Conduct an Employee Relations Investigation

conduct employee relations investigation

In todays’ workplaces, managers have to focus more on employee relations than ever before. Employee relations describes the relationship between employee and employer, as well as between two employees. A positive, healthy employee relationship is the goal, since it benefits the employees, as well as the business as a whole. Employees who feel valued and appreciated are more productive, feel safer, happier and are much less likely to leave.

So, what do you do when employee relations issues come up? After all, conflict can’t always be avoided, especially when people work together for numerous hours a day. Ignoring the issue is never the solution. A good manager needs to provide clear and consistent responses to HR employee relations, otherwise employees may become disillusioned and may even avoid reporting problems.

What Are Employee Relations and Why Are They Important?

conduct employee relations investigationEmployee relations can include both individual and collective relationships between employers and between colleagues. Collective employee relations often involve concerns over pay, workplace safety, continuing training or education or employee engagement. Individual employee relations typically involve how an employee is treated by colleagues or managers on an individual basis.

Employee relations are important because they can either positively or negatively impact the workplace. When there is an issue at hand, workers may feel threatened, mistrusted or disillusioned. No manager wants this to become a bigger problem. These relationships and the potential issues that come up in the workplace must be managed effectively, and in some cases of serious issues, an investigation must take place.
conduct employee relations investigation

How Should You Handle Employee Relations Issues?

The way in which you handle employee relations issues will set the tone for how your employees feel and behave in the future. It is easy to think that brushing things under the rug will simply make the problems go away, but that is far from the truth. Ignoring issues will just make things worse and may even have consequences that impact your business. Here’s how managers should handle any and all employee relations investigations.

Be Quick

As soon as you receive a complaint or notification of an issue, you need to act quickly. It should be a first priority, otherwise an employee may feel that they are being brushed off or that you don’t care about their concerns. While starting an investigation quickly is essential, it is equally important to be thorough. You don’t want to rush through the process for the sake of getting it done. Take time to cross your t’s and dot your i’s to ensure that you don’t miss any pertinent information.

Be Objective

It’s easy to want to take sides in an employee relations investigation, especially if you’ve received a complaint from the same employee before. However, being objective is essential. You’ll never be able to complete an honest investigation unless you avoid making assumptions and take complaints seriously. If you feel that you are too close to the issue to make a good, objective judgement, then it makes sense to claim a conflict of interest and let someone else handle the situation.

Avoid Aggression

Part of an employee relations investigation may include interviewing employees or witnesses, depending on the complaint. Aggressive interview tactics should be avoided, even if you really, really want to get a confession. Acting aggressively can lead you straight to a lawsuit, which no business wants. If possible, request other HR professionals assist with any interviews and act as witnesses so that you can’t be accused of any misconduct that could have happened behind closed doors.

Be Confidential

HR employee relations investigations should be as confidential as possible. If word leaks out about the issue that you’re handling, you could lose the trust of your employees. This can make it nearly impossible to get all of the information you may need to come to an objective conclusion. Make it a policy that you never discuss investigations with any other employees or colleagues.

Reach a Conclusion

Never leave an investigation unfinished—leaving people hanging is never the right choice. It’s up to you as a manager to weigh the evidence and decide whether an employee or employees violated workplace policies. It’s not easy to tell someone that they’ve done something wrong, and it’s natural to want to be the “good guy” to everyone, but that’s just not possible in an employee relations investigation.

Follow Up

After the conclusion of an investigation, it’s easy to want to never look back, but follow-up is necessary. This gives you the chance to check in on everyone involved and ensure that the issue has not resurfaced or that any retaliation has been avoided.

What Is the Process of Conducting an Employee Relations Investigation?

While each business will have it’s own processes in place for conducting an employee relations investigation, most processes follow a similar order which may look like the following:

1. Receive the Complaint

All complaints should be documented in writing using provided HR forms. You should be sure to take all complaints seriously, even if the employee has filed complaints in the past. Begin the investigation as soon as possible after receiving the complaint and be sure to let the complainant know that you’ll handle the issue quickly.

2. Prepare for Investigation

Proper preparation helps ensure that the investigation goes smoothly. Decide the scope and purpose of the investigation, who will conduct the investigation, who you’ll need to interview, what evidence you’ll need and how you’ll document everything.

3. Interview Those Involved

In most cases you’ll need to interview the accuser, any witnesses and the accused. Maintain strict confidentiality and avoid trying to lead or intimidate any interviewees. Straightforward, unbiased interviews will get you the best evidence possible.

4. Evaluate Credibility

Changing stories, rumors and second- or third-hand accounts can make an interviewee less credible. Matching facts with the interviews you conduct can help you decide which accounts of the issue at hand are the most credible.

5. Gather Evidence and Documentation

Always take notes during interviews, which includes detailing as-close-to verbatim responses as possible; avoid your own interpretations or conclusions. The process of documenting and gathering evidence is usually the most time consuming part of the investigation, but it’s important to have documentation for everything so that you have proof and backup should you need it.

6. Analyze the Facts

With your evidence in-hand, you can analyze the facts to determine a conclusion. You’ll probably have to sort through multiple different versions of the issue, but it’s important to have good judgment and base your conclusion on facts rather than on opinions or hunches.

7. Inform Concerned Parties

Concluding the investigation may involve determining if a corrective action is necessary, as well as informing all involved parties of your conclusion. The employee in the wrong should be treated fairly and respectfully, regardless of the outcome of your investigation.

8. Monitor and Follow Up

Periodically following up with the employee who raised the concern, as well as the employee in the wrong, is necessary to maintain a positive workplace. If changes need to happen or the issue is still happening, it may be necessary to make some changes or provide further training or discipline.

Get Help With an HR Employee Relations Investigation

It’s not easy to conduct an investigation on your employees. Momentum Employer Group offers HR services, including assistance with this delicate process. Contact us for more information today.