Mark Flynn, Specialized Legal Services
Workplace investigations go on all the time these days. They can range from informal conversations to a set of formal meetings. What is most important is that the investigation be appropriate in light of the circumstances. It’s helpful to define what an investigation is under any circumstances, because a good definition clarifies expectations and can help keep the process on track.
Here is a good start: An investigation is a timely, unbiased, and thorough collection and assessment of relevant facts and circumstances to support informed findings which will guide decision making in the workplace. This definition incorporates the primary criteria to establish an “appropriate” investigation—one that is prompt, impartial, and thorough. One thing missing from, but embedded within, this definition is the necessity of making credibility assessments where conflicts underlie relevant facts. Underlying conflicts among employee perceptions or asserted facts are what prompt the need for investigation in the first place. Thus, we have fact finding and credibility assessments toward findings or conclusions as to what really happened.
What further ties these components together is investigation scope. Scope generally describes the issues to be investigated. Be careful here because, as a practical matter, scope can be a moving target. When you uncover information, you may find that the scope either narrows or increases. Successful and effective investigations always demonstrate a clear understanding of scope—what the investigation is about and what questions are to be resolved. Having too narrow a scope can mean that all facts are not brought to light, but allowing too broad a scope can bring in information that is not relevant to the matter needing resolution and potentially create misinformed expectations for participating employees.
Admittedly, each of these components can involve myriad questions that complicate the process of investigation in the contemporary workplace. Every investigation is different. Even if you have done a number of investigations, it’s always good to have a third party to talk about your latest investigation. This is why you are a member of MSEC. We love to talk you about your investigations, and we’ve experienced a great many, so please, don’t hesitate to talk through your investigation process with us.