In my previous post, I discussed 3 Strategies for creating consistent investigative processes:
Create a specific model for how the ER team (or HR, or Compliance team) actually operates
Identify, through a needs analysis, what knowledge and skill gaps exist with the current team members regarding how to conduct internal investigations.
Implement an effective internal investigations training program to develop the knowledge and skills of the HR and ER team members.
In this post, I will discuss 2 More Strategies regarding how to create more consistent, standardized internal investigative processes:
4. Create templates for conducting internal HR investigations
Generally, an investigation begins with a Complainant making an allegation. And, when the Complainant expresses concerns, the next step is that the HR professional/investigator doing the intake starts scribbling notes either on a notepad or by keyboarding notes onto a Word document. Good start, but not a great start… What should happen is a brief pause to visit the “investigator’s toolbox” of document templates for both process and documentation before just launching into working a case. Preparation and planning are critical investigative steps. And, as I’ll discuss in Strategy #5, the preparation and process templates should be embedded into a case management system.
Usually the first document template an investigator will use is the Complainant Intake Interview template. This is a document template that ensures the investigator covers the critical discussion points regarding the organization’s internal complaint resolution process. And, it will guide the investigator through an effective interview by having some standard Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions and how to properly close out an interview. In the HR investigations training programs that I facilitate, these types of templates are part of the training materials in our programs. To learn more about our HR investigations training programs please go to: https://www.hr-investigations.com/investigations-training/
After taking a Complainant’s Statement or documenting the conversation, an investigator can then quickly refer to an Investigation Checklist to begin working on investigative planning and preparation (which includes developing an investigative strategy), organizing the list of witnesses, preparing to gather evidence, etc. In other words, it facilitates a process the organization has clearly defined. And, when there is a clearly defined process and all investigators are using it, it drives the consistency among all team members and withstands the scrutiny of outside counsel, labor unions, insurance companies, and others. In other words, the consistency drives much better internal investigations.
Below is a list of some investigative process templates that I recommend HR | ER teams create:
- Complainant Statement / Document of Conversation
- Internal Investigations Checklist
- Interim Remedial Action Steps (or Process Flow)
- Internal Investigation Planning and Preparation Template
- Witness Interview Preparation | Subject Interview Preparation
- Investigation Timeline
- Internal Investigation Planning and Preparation
- Witness Interview Preparation
- Subject Interview Preparation
- Witness Interview – Opening Protocol
- Witness Interview – Document of Conversation
- Witness Interview – Closing Protocol
- Evidence Collection Log
- Chain of Custody
- Evaluation of Findings
- Investigation Report
- Complainant | Witness | Subject Conclusion Notification Letters
- Investigator Case Notes
5. Implement an Investigations Case Management Software Solution and Include Templates and Organizational Policies
One of the benefits of working in HR consulting for 18 years is that I have had the opportunity to work with so many different types of organizations, across all industry sectors, to see how their HR, ER, Ethics and Compliance Teams, and General Counsel handle employee relations issues and internal investigations. From my unique vantage point, I have been able to observe and recognize organizational best practices and help our other clients to develop those same types of practices. And, with that said, I have also been able to observe and recognize seriously dysfunctional organizational practices, which I have helped our clients and students in our investigations training programs to avoid. One best practice that I can share with you, which I have made Strategy #5 here, is to implement a case management software solution. So, what exactly is it? Here is a link on our website where you can learn more about the case management solution that we use and where you can get more information: https://resources.hracuity.com/rpchr-investigations-case-management?hs_preview=cFNinuHg-12374518998
For a number of years we have used HRAcuity as our case management solution and we have a hard time remembering what life was like for us before we implemented it. A number of our clients, which have large employee populations also use it too. So, why is using a case management system a great strategy? For starters, it houses all of the investigative data in one, centralized portal. A great quote that my spouse/business partner, Ken, always says is: “What happens if you (investigator) win the lottery tomorrow and quit your job? Who will pick up your case after you’re gone?” In other words, how does the organization ensure business continuity if something happens to you? Having a case system in place, so your colleague can pick right up where you left off.
Another key benefit is in having the investigative templates embedded in the system, so all investigators are using the same process templates, interview question templates, and making notations in case files. It also enables investigators to quickly pull down an organizational policy, such as the Respectful Workplace policy, or the Social Media policy, and include it into a case file. Investigators need to include the policy that was in force at the time, because policies are changing all the time. If a particular case were to result in litigation, perhaps the Subject was terminated and later sued the organization, it will be imperative to have retained a copy of the specific policies as they were written at the time, as those policies were the basis for leadership decision making. Other benefits to investigators are the ability to copy and paste emails right into the case file, enter case notes, enter the time it takes to work a case to keep track of productivity, and…last but not least…the system will actually write the investigation report by pulling together the entered documentation into an embedded report template. So, from a consistency perspective, this is one of the most valuable aspects of using a case management system like HRAcuity. There are other systems out there, but the one we use is the only one really designed exclusively for HR investigations and employee relations issues.
The case management system is especially beneficial for HR and ER professionals who must manage a significant case load. It really keeps investigators organized and it protects the integrity of the investigation by controlling who has access to the documentation. And lastly, from a consistency standpoint, having a system also allows investigators to document investigative findings as well as the decision(s) made by leadership. Through entering notes of action steps taken, such as a disciplinary warning or separation of employment, the organization now has a record of what steps the organization has taken. And, those records of decisions will help to drive consistency in future decisions.
I hope both of these posts have been beneficial and have given HR professionals some food for thought on how to make some improvements in managing internal HR investigations.
Until next time…
Natalie Ivey, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
President & CEO