Regardless of your company culture, policies or procedures, odds are at some point; you’ll need to conduct a workplace investigation.

By promptly and properly addressing an issue through a fair, organized and unbiased process, you’re likely to save your company time, money and hassle down the road. However, if the purpose of an investigation is to gather facts from all affected parties, how do you balance the need to include all relevant perspectives with the obligation to maintain employee privacy?

Not all investigations will look the same, and you’ll have to approach each one with the best strategies to ensure you are striking the right balance.

While each investigation process must address the specific situation at hand, here are some of the keys to maintaining employee privacy during a workplace investigation:

  • Have a privacy policy – Having an official company privacy policy is a critical first step. Without a clear and informed policy in place, you run the risk of unwittingly breaching privacy laws which could cause serious legal or financial implications down the road.
  • Strive for confidentiality, but don’t promise it – When a complaint is made, the respondent is entitled to the relevant information needed to make an informed response or mount an appropriate defence. If a witness or relevant party is hesitant to share information without a guarantee of confidentiality, it’s important to understand their reasons. Ensuring you clearly outline to parties your documented stance on retaliation will go a long way in encouraging employees to participate openly.
  • Keep all information on an absolute ‘need to know’ basis – Information about an investigation should only ever be shared with the individuals who absolutely need to have it to participate fully. And even then, you should disclose only the details that are essential to their role in the investigation. For example, witnesses usually only need details about events or incidents in which they were directly involved.
  • Put privacy expectations in writing – All participants in an investigation should receive, in writing, an outline of their confidentiality obligations. This will help reduce confusion and provide a vital paper trail of the due diligence steps taken, should that become necessary.
  • Maintain security of all relevant files – Any written documents pertaining to an investigation must be maintained in a secure space that is not accessible to anyone who doesn’t “need-to-know” about it to do their jobs. Investigation files should be kept separate from other HR files. Any disposal should be carried out according to information security best practices and standards, for example, using a secure shredding service.
  • Keep conversations private – Investigation interviews shouldn’t be conducted at the workplace if that makes maintaining privacy difficult. Consider cutting down on unnecessary gossip and conjecture by holding meetings at external locations. If investigating remotely, ensure as much as possible that interviewees are located in a private, closed space and there are no unauthorized people in the room. Inform all interviewees in writing that they do not have consent to record the interview – you need to be in control of all the records related to the investigation and you don’t want to risk having a recording or transcript being shared inappropriately.

Maintaining privacy during a workplace investigation is a complex but necessary balance to strike. The experts at Cenera can work with your organization to execute a proper workplace investigation process that can ascertain critical facts while respecting the privacy of all involved.

Reach out to us today if you need help with your workplace investigation.

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