Conducting HR Investigations

February 21, 2023

Human resource investigations can be daunting and complex tasks. Navigating the nuances of a sensitive investigation without compromising on fairness and accuracy requires a thorough understanding of the process. 

This comprehensive guide on effective strategies for HR investigations provides an in-depth look at the key elements of conducting successful investigations. It offers a step-by-step approach to handling investigations, from the initial gathering of evidence to making a final determination. 

Throughout this article, readers will gain insight into the legal considerations involved, how to effectively document the investigation process, and strategies for interviewing witnesses and other parties. 

With the help of this guide, HR professionals can have the confidence to conduct thorough and successful investigations.

Overview of the Investigation Process

When beginning an investigation, it’s important to first take stock of the situation. Assess the circumstances surrounding the complaint and identify the key objectives of the investigation. Some of the key questions to consider are: 

  • What prompted the investigation? 
  • Who is involved? 
  • What are the key issues and controversies? 
  • What is the timeframe for the investigation? 
  • What type of investigation is necessary (formal or informal)? 
  • What resources will be necessary for the investigation? 

By addressing these questions up front, HR professionals can be better prepared to handle the investigation process as a whole. Although each investigation will be unique, there are some general guidelines that can be helpful. 

First, it’s important to outline the investigative process, which includes the types of investigations typically used in the HR field. There are three main types of investigations: formal, informal, and administrative. Each has its own set of procedures and requirements. 

During the investigation itself, be sure to follow the established process and provide the parties with an opportunity to provide their side of the story. This includes providing the relevant parties with a copy of the investigation process.

Gathering and Assessing Evidence

The importance of gathering and assessing evidence is crucial to a successful investigation. The key to gathering evidence is to identify what will be required to figure out your case. An important consideration is what evidence is  relevant. 

As part of an investigation, it is a good idea to create a list of evidence that is reviewed and relied upon in reaching any conclusions as part of the investigation.

Legal Considerations in HR Investigations

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the majority of complaints received by HR departments are related to discrimination and other employee rights issues. In these situations, HR professionals must be aware of the legal considerations involved in the investigation process. 

It is good practice to consult with an attorney before beginning an HR investigation into complaints of illegal conduct. 

Documenting the Investigation

Documentation is one of the most important aspects of conducting a successful investigation. The parties involved in the investigation will want to know that they are being treated fairly and accurately. Good documentation can help to alleviate any concerns they may have. It goes without saying that you should maintain a complete investigation file. 

But there are many other ways to document an investigation. The type and level of documentation will depend on the complexity of the investigation, the types of allegations being investigated, and the number of people involved in the investigation. While documenting the investigation, keep the following points in mind: 

Use a consistent format throughout the investigation file. This includes a file number, folder titles, and the organization of the file. Using a consistent format can help to make the investigation file easier to navigate. 

Keep all related correspondence in the file. This includes correspondence related to the complaint, the investigation, and any results or findings. 

Make sure to date all documents. This includes correspondence, interview notes, and report drafts. 

It is also good practice to have a master list of all evidence received and evidence relied upon in reaching the findings.

Interviewing Witnesses and Other Parties

Interviewing witnesses and other parties involved in the investigation is an important step in the investigation process. While every interview won’t yield useful information, many interviews will be helpful to the investigation. 

It’s important to be mindful of the legal considerations involved in interviewing witnesses. Here are some key considerations when interviewing witnesses: 

Make sure the person you are interviewing is aware of the purpose of the interview. This means letting them know the subject matter and scope of the interview.

Confirm that the person you are interviewing has the necessary knowledge to provide the information you’re seeking. If the person does not have first-hand knowledge of the situation, it may be unwise to interview them. 

Make sure to record or take notes of the interview. This includes recording the date, time, and location of the interview. It may also be helpful to have another person present during the interview. Doing so will help you to avoid any bias in the conversation. If you do an audio record, make sure to get the person’s consent before starting the recording.

Document the interview in your investigation file. This includes the names of the people interviewed, the date and length of the interview, the general topics covered in the interview, and any notes taken during the interview. Doing so will help you to recall key information from the interview, as well as provide a written record for the investigation file.

When determining who to interview, you should start with the complaining party and ask them to identify the person(s) they believe have information regarding the subject of their complaint. Similarly, it is important to interview the person against whom the complaint is being made. It is also good practice to ask all witnesses if there is anyone else they believe needs to be interviewed as part of the investigation.

Making a Final Determination

Investigations should be conducted and resolved as quickly as possible. As you wrap up the investigation, it’s important to make a final determination. A final determination should only be made after the investigation is completed and all evidence and interviewed have been properly evaluated.. 

It’s important to be thorough and accurate in your final determination. Here are some key considerations when making a final determination: 

Make sure to consider all relevant evidence. This includes the information gathered during the investigation. Be sure to review the evidence thoroughly and use your best judgment. 

Be mindful of any applicable laws or company policies in your final determination. This includes the discrimination laws, collective bargaining agreements, and civil service laws. 

Document your findings in the investigation file. This includes the final determination and the reasons behind the decision. Doing so will help you to recall key information from the investigation, as well as provide a written record for the investigation file.

After the final determination is made, the next step is to determine with whom the results should be shared. You should always touch base with the complaining employee and let them know that a determination has been made. However, you do not have to give the complete results of your investigation to the complaining party.

If an employee is being disciplined as a result of your investigation results, that person is entitled to privacy and the level of discipline should not be disclosed outside the decisional group.

Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Situations

HR investigations are often complex and challenging situations. Often, they can become even more difficult when emotions are running high. To help manage difficult situations, it’s important to stay mindful of your role as an HR professional. 

Remember that your priority is to fairly and accurately investigate the complaint. You are on a fact finding mission. You are not there to mediate or offer counseling. While it’s important to acknowledge the emotions the people involved in the complaint may have, it’s also important to keep a distance. 

Doing so will help you to remain objective and maintain focus on the investigation. Here are some key strategies for dealing with difficult situations: 

  • Take your time. You want to promptly conduct an investigation, but there is no need to rush the investigation. It is important to take your time and be thorough and accurate in your findings. 
  • Be mindful of your role. Remember that you’re there to investigate. It’s important to maintain your distance and stay focused on your role as an HR professional. You are investigating to determine what happened.
  • Seek guidance and advice. If you feel overwhelmed during the investigation, don’t hesitate to seek guidance and advice. Or hire someone outside the organization to conduct the investigation.
  • Stay organized. It’s important to keep the investigation well-organized. This will help to keep you focused and make it easier to navigate the investigation.


HR investigations can be daunting and challenging tasks. Navigating the nuances of a sensitive investigation without compromising on fairness and accuracy requires a thorough understanding of the process. This comprehensive guide provides an in-depth look at the key elements of conducting successful HR investigations.

At Freeburg & Granieri, we only hire attorneys who have earned degrees from prestigious institutions' legal programs to provide you with excellent service. An attorney with at least ten years of litigation and trial expertise will be handling and supervising your case. 

Throughout the duration of your case, you will be able to speak freely with your legal representative. Ultimately, we will make your problem our problem. Book a free consultation today!


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