Post-workplace investigation, an employee leaves

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Q: I recently was interviewed as part of a workplace investigation at my company.  I was told in advance that I would be asked questions about our office and work environment.  I met with the investigator and she asked very specific questions about a co-worker’s behavior.  I was truthful and shared what I knew. Later that week, the co-worker resigned.  I am wondering what occurred.  Who can I ask?  I would feel horribly if something I said could have forced a resignation.

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A: Workplace investigations are becoming more common as employees feel a bit more emboldened to step forward and share a concern.  Some think the #metoo movement has inspired many to raise a concern, when in the past, employees may have been reluctant and even embarrassed.  Workplace investigations can occur for many reasons.  Sometimes the leadership receives a complaint about a workplace concern.  It might be a safety issue, bullying, harassment or favoritism.  It could be any possible violation or concern in the work environment.  We have even handled one regarding a suspected employee theft issue.

 

Employers will often hire an independent investigator, someone typically from outside the organization.  Ideally the investigator will have no relationship to anyone within the organization so their view of the situation is objective.  Employers also usually hire someone who has experience conducting workplace investigations.

The investigators role is to collect information, often through one-on-one interviews.  The investigator may also request to examine documents like the employee handbook or other relevant documents. Ancillary issues may arise as part of the investigation, which should be shared with the employer.  The employer will often receive a written report from the investigator.  The written report will summarize the information shared via the interviews and may including findings and recommendations.

You will probably never know the details around the workplace investigation.  Usually the details are only shared with a limited audience (on a “need to know” basis) within the company.  There may be some changes will occur as a result of the investigator’s recommendations.  Sometimes an employee is asked to leave or there may be changes in reporting relationships or roles.  You were smart to be truthful.

Sometimes information is “leaked” within the organization after an investigation is concluded.  Based on my experience, usually rumors do not provide a complete and accurate picture of what actually occurred.

Hopefully post-investigation, the organization has addressed any concerns raised.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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