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Workplace Complaint Investigation Process

Adhering to a consistent and thorough complaint investigation process is critical. The organization and the investigator together develop an investigation plan to ensure alignment. The plan establishes a process to help ensure that all allegations are addressed, that relevant employees are given a full and fair opportunity to provide information, and ultimately, that steps in the decision-making process are not missed.

The investigation plan should include the names of the complainant (unless anonymous), the subject of the investigation, and potential witnesses. It should include some background and context for the allegations, and the documents and other evidence to be reviewed. It should specify who is responsible for logistics, to whom the investigator will ultimately provide a report, and an estimate of the time to complete the investigation.

In developing the plan, the employer must ensure that the investigator is free to interview anyone the investigator deems necessary in order to conduct a thorough investigation. The plan may also need to be modified during the investigation process if new witnesses are identified, new concerns are raised, or the scope of the investigation has expanded. A dialogue between the company and investigator about any developments that might alter the plan is key.

Absent unusual circumstances, e.g., where the complainant refuses to cooperate, the complainant should be interviewed first to tell their story and to identify all the incidents and potential witnesses to each allegation. Relevant witnesses would typically be interviewed next. The subject of the investigation must then be given an opportunity to respond to the allegations against them.

Throughout the investigation process, the investigator should keep the organization informed about progress, significant developments and any new issues. At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator and company will determine the appropriate report format under the circumstances.

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