The Goal of a Workplace Investigation is to Better Understand The Facts and Details Around a Workplace Complaint.

When you receive a complaint, it’s natural to feel blindsided and confused. How could someone possibly think this organization is doing something wrong? Isn’t everything being handled appropriately? But then again… maybe we should investigate this complaint and see if there is any validity to what the person has told us.

It can be scary when anyone comes forward with a complaint about your workplace or your management team. It can make you feel exposed. You may fear that it will damage your reputation, and rightfully so. But as leaders, we need to trust that the best way to restore trust from our employees and colleagues is by handling these situations with grace, honesty, integrity, and transparency. A workplace investigation can help you do just that.


What is a workplace investigation?

A workplace investigation is a process that helps you understand a situation by collecting facts and data. The goal is to better understand the situation, identify the root cause(s), and make recommendations on how to solve the issues that were brought to the surface by the investigation.

The investigation process varies depending on the complexity of the complaint. Complaints often bring to the surface a range of emotions and feelings, which can greatly impact how employees communicate their concerns. This communication can range from a simple conversation with a manager to a formal grievance filed with human resources (HR). The investigation process also varies depending on the type of complaint, and whether or not it is legally actionable.


Why conduct an investigation?

Employees who feel safe raising concerns and bringing issues to light are the ones who have the most positive impact on your organization. New research on the science of complaining shows that complaining can be a powerful force for good.

It can be a catalyst for bringing about change – as long as the complaint is legitimate. It is crucial to establish a culture where people feel safe to speak up when they see something wrong or want to suggest an improvement. This is especially important when it comes to managing employee relationships, including complaints about the management team. To create a safe place for employees to voice concerns and complaints, you need to first recognize that it’s not about you. It is about the staff and their experiences.


Defining the scope of an investigation

When an employee contacts you with a complaint, you have to first decide if it is appropriate to investigate the issue. Complaints can range from a simple difference of opinion to potential legal violations. You need to know when it is appropriate to investigate a complaint and when it is not. For example, an employee complains that you are “too hard on employees.” This may fall into the “difference of opinion” category. What would be more appropriate to investigate would be an employee complaint that your manager is making racist comments and treating some employees differently based on their race. Some complaints are legally actionable, while others are not.


When to use outside help

If the complaint is serious, you need to be strategic in how you approach it and who you call on to be part of the investigation team. In these cases, you should consider bringing in an outside party to conduct an investigation, such as a private investigator, lawyer or HR consultant. Investigations involving complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination, and bullying are legally defined as “investigations” (not surveys or assessments). If the complaint is one that could result in a lawsuit, you must get help from a neutral third party, like a private investigator, lawyer or HR consultant.

When you call on an outside party for assistance, be sure to tell them about the complaint, what is needed from them, and the timeline for the investigation. You should consider bringing in outside help when the complaint is serious. It is best to have an outside party conduct the investigation so that the employees involved do not feel pressured, and feel they are being treated fairly.


When to bring in the big guns: Legal Counsel

There are some situations where you should definitely bring in the big guns and get legal counsel to help you with the investigation. This is when the complaint could lead to a lawsuit. Legal counsel will conduct the investigation, collect evidence, and give you recommendations on the next steps. In some cases, legal counsel may take over the entire investigation, including interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence.



The most important thing to remember when a complaint is brought to your attention is to stay calm and collected. You don’t want the person to feel like you are attacking them.

When you receive a complaint, make sure you have an action plan for how to respond. Develop an investigation plan that is appropriate for the complaint. Make sure the person bringing the complaint is aware of what actions you will be taking and when. Stay as transparent as possible and make sure you are gathering all the facts before you make any knee-jerk decisions about the complaint or its source. Investigate the complaint with care, compassion, and a desire to create positive change.

Jolasers have a long history of conducting complex workplace investigations in Melbourne and Regional Victoria. 

Informative Workplace investigation in Melbourne video.

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