Workplace investigations have two competing requirements.   Any investigation process must flexibility to follow the facts wherever they lead or the investigation won’t reach the best version of the truth.  But without a predefined process, companies are likely to hold different people to different standards.  Squaring this circle is part of the reason that all companies follow slightly different investigation processes, which are tailored to the realities of their own company.

Regardless of your organization’s approach to HR investigations, however, your investigation process should be self-enforcing. To mitigate risk, it should be extremely difficult to move an investigation from one phase to the next without certain steps being completed.  Here are three ways to make a self-enforcing process that prevents major missteps.

#1 – A checklist of steps for each phase change

At some companies, tips go through multiple phases.  For instance, they may start as complaints, with an initial fact-gathering phase to determine if the case should progress to an investigation.  But what determines whether an allegation is credible enough to warrant a full investigation?

Moving a complaint into an investigation status in these cases should require specific steps to be followed.  In order to process the case, the investigator should be required to assert that specific steps were taken before it is moved – this can be as simple as a series of checkboxes, or a requirement that specific evidentiary documents be submitted to the system before it can be moved.  A supervisor may want to review this as well; this ensures that any decision to move a case forward (or leave it behind) also has a concurring one.

#2 – Idle case notification

When cases sit idle, it can lead to some pretty terrible headlines.  Dozens of companies this year have had an allegation leak to the media, only to be followed by several more that were reported but never reached a conclusion.  One way to avoid this is a system that automatically sends alerts when HR investigations are sitting idle.  After seven days idle, for instance, the assigned resource might get an alert.  After fourteen days, their supervisor does as well, and after a month of idle time, department heads receive an alert.

This prevents cases idling for months because the employee conducting the investigation left the company or because it was referred to someone outside of HR and never pushed forward.  Ultimately, the alert will reach a level where a person is empowered to solve the problem that’s preventing the case from moving forward.

#3 – Finalized document requirements

HR investigations may go through several hands, and a finalized report requires input from multiple people.  If documents are submitted before everyone has had a chance to review them, there could be a discrepancy between the final report and the evidence.  This is why all documents should be required to be marked as ‘final copy’ before the investigation can be closed.  Depending on the nature of the workplace investigation, an executive may also be required to sign-off on documents before they can be marked finalized.  This ensures that the executive has the opportunity to ask all team members if the document reflects their contributions before allowing it to be finalized and closed.

To learn how CMTS:HR can help your company reduce the risk of idle cases, contact us at 855-636-5361 or email us at