6 Internal Investigation Mistakes

by Terri Swain

As a former EEOC investigator, gone corporate then gone consultant…I’ve reviewed my share of internal discrimination investigations. Some are impressive, some are epic and well, others shouldn’t have bothered. Here’s our dirty half- dozen mistakes:

1. No report written to memorialize what happened – your notes scribbled on legal pads are often difficult for you to decipher and impossible for a third party. Write a thorough, detailed report when the investigation is finished.
2. Your Company is always right. Either because you’re getting pressure for the right answer or you think it’s your job…but sometimes the company is wrong. Right it but don’t necessarily write it without the wisdom of counsel.
3. Talking to one side and neglecting the other. This goes both ways – listen with an objective ear to both sides of an issue and plot your strategy to determine the truth. Don’t rush to judgment.
4. Not talking to witnesses because you don’t want gossip. Chances are, they are gossiping anyway. In a “he said/she said” they are critical. Tap into former employees and others who might have info – not necessarily only those identified by both parties.
5. Taking too long to investigate. The regulations require immediate corrective action. Issues of discrimination and harassment should get your immediate attention. Any lapses in timing should be documented. This is important stuff.
6. Neglecting follow up. Once an investigation has concluded, circling around with the complainant after a period of time is wise, particularly when an issue was righted or was inconclusive. Assure no retaliation is occurring. Communication is key in creating trust and avoiding litigation.  Document your follow with a supplement to your well-written investigation.

Internal investigations handled by qualified and trained HR professionals are a great defense in a lawsuit and build a culture of trust. Handled badly…not so much. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! We’re skilled in training your HR professionals AND conducting third party fact-finding.