Here are some example scenarios of investigating a workplace violence incident and where to start:
Issue: You’ve just received the unsettling news that one of your employees physically attacked another employee, causing him serious injuries. You want to initiate an investigation, but you’re not sure where to begin or what the investigation should entail. What do you do?
Answer: The short answer is to conduct an investigation that is thorough, well documented, objective, prompt, confidential, and well organized. Ultimately, however, you need a game-plan and a good strategy that will ensure you’ve covered all the bases. To that end, consider the following ten steps:
Step One: Decide who should conduct the investigation
This is a critical decision that requires several considerations and should be made well in advance of any incident. The investigator should be objective, experienced in investigations, and should make a credible witness in case the incident results in legal action. In addition, an investigator should have good “people skills” (i.e., a talent for getting people to open up and candidly tell what happened).
Step Two: Review company policies and procedures
The company’s workplace violence policy should be consulted. Be sure to follow all procedures safeguarding individual’s rights established in the policy.
Step Three: Identify any potential witnesses
This aspect of the investigation can be a bit under estimated, as both parties may request that you interview numerous witnesses. List all potential witnesses in order of priority, beginning with eyewitnesses and supervisors. It is not always practical to interview everyone, so you must consider how valuable the person’s testimony would be.
Step Four: Gather and review documents
Documents to look for in an inquiry may include previous complaints, incident reports, company policies, company procedures, police reports, witness statements, personnel files, time cards, and possible expense reports. In short, review all relevant documents.
Step Five: Identify the issues to be investigated
The person conducting the investigation must ask, “What are we investigating?” In the scenario above, the answer is straightforward: workplace violence. But the investigator should keep in mind that new issues may arise as the investigation progresses. Be sure to follow up on new claims or additional information that comes to light.
Step Six: Prepare your investigation strategy
A good strategy involves structuring the interviews in a way that will maximize the amount of information you discover. Ask yourself, “Who do you want to talk to first—and why?” Generally, the person bringing the complaint and the person accused are good places to start in a workplace violence investigation case. The investigator should also consider beginning with the person who is the eyewitness that saw the action take place.
Step Seven: Take interim steps
It’s perfectly acceptable to suspend someone pending an investigation, especially in cases where the employer suspects a threat to health and safety of other employees. The person allegedly posing such a threat should be suspended and barred from the premises until the investigation has concluded. All employees should be aware of the policy to bar upon suspension, so they know to notify management should the suspended individual return prior to being cleared. Generally, management may become involved in this step. Sometimes, especially with workplace violence incidents, it may be prudent to involve law enforcement early and have a law enforcement representative in the building in a remote location who can respond in the event the interview escalates to the threat of being physical. It is important that you inform management of the investigation and discuss the investigation process and procedure.
Step Eight: Prepare interview questions
The investigator should always prepare the interview questions in advance. Know what questions you want to ask and how you want the interview to develop. The interviewer should begin with broad-based questions to put the person at ease and gradually get around to asking the critical questions.
Step Nine: Be prepared to answer questions
The interviewer should also try to think of any questions that will arise from the other person’s perspective.
Step Ten: Prepare opening and closing statements
The advantage to having a prepared opening and closing is to be sure that certain areas are covered with each person being interviewed. You want to remind each person involved of the company policies and procedures, that the company takes the allegations seriously, and that the company will conduct a fair, thorough and prompt investigation. You also want to maintain open communication with all parties. Let each person know to come back and see you if anything new arises.