The quality of an HR investigation can have dramatic impacts on an agency.  It can determine which employees remain at the agency.  It can impact agency culture for years.  And if either the complainant or the subject of the investigation feels that they were treated unfairly, it can also have legal implications.

A well-run workplace investigation follows a pre-defined process; this ensures all agency employees are treated the same during an investigation regardless of their position.  One of the most critical parts of this process is documentation.  Your documentation should demonstrate that your team strives to be consistent, thorough and fair.

Documenting a Consistent HR Investigation Process

Each step your HR investigators complete should have accompanying documentation.  These documents should reflect when this step of the investigation process was started, what information was gathered, and when it was completed. 

Investigative documentation does wind up in front of a court or the government oversight agency from time to time.  If your agency has proof that the case in question went through the exact same steps as any other investigation, this will support the fact that your agency put forward a good-faith effort to come to an unbiased conclusion.

One way to ensure this happens is to have HR investigation software with stage-gating in place.  This will prevent an investigator from progressing investigations beyond certain phases until all supporting documentation has been uploaded to the system.  Depending on the size of the agency, it might also be appropriate to require the documentation be approved by a supervisor before case progression.

Documenting a Thorough HR Investigation Process

When your documentation and evidence is all easily and readily accessible, it also helps to support an argument that your HR investigations process is pre-planned and well-designed.  Ideally, any uploaded documents will be text-searchable so they can be easily produced if necessary.

Don’t allow case documentation to exist in places such as inboxes, network drives, or multiple software systems.  In addition to being a security risk, this increases the likelihood that the evidence supporting an investigation finding will be misplaced, which will not go well during an external investigation or discovery process.  All case documentation should be in a single, secured location, and each document should be tied to an individual case.

Documenting a Fair HR Investigation Process

One of the most important parts of a good-faith investigation is that it does not pre-judge outcomes.  Investigators should not be, and should not seem, biased in favor of anyone’s guilt or innocence until the final stages of the investigation. They should also not jump to any conclusions that would lead a neutral observer to believe the outcome was tainted from the start.  The case documentation should reflect this, sticking with facts rather than judgements towards the beginning of the data collection process.  This is especially true of interview notes.

Fairness is important to both sides.  It’s not always a more cautious approach to conclude that the allegations are not substantiated.  If the events alleged by a complainant actually did occur, failure to substantiate the allegations can have a dramatic negative impact on the agency.  Some employees will believe they can get away with bad behavior, while others will believe it’s pointless to report that behavior.  This can lead to a flurry of bad behavior that eventually becomes public, leading to major reputational damage to the agency.

To learn how CMTS:HR can help your HR team follow a thorough process and fully document HR investigations, call us at 919-747-3812 or email us at