An effective investigation requires a lot of effort, planning and great resource management. They also require a quick and organised response from the company, as it increases the likelihood of better results. 

The workplace investigation process begins when a complaint is lodged. An employee may go to their manager, a HR manager, an anonymous line or website to report an incident or an issue that they have. To ensure a smooth investigation process, the organisation will need to look at the complaint and determine whether they have the full story or if they need more details. It is crucial that the severity of every complaint is determined at this stage. If it’s a small issue like a miscommunication within a team then an investigation is not needed. However, more important complaints such as harassment, sexual assault or bullying need to be followed with a thorough investigation. 

How to carry out an effective investigation

An effective investigation usually starts with a quick response. If the company takes quick action, they are more likely to achieve a faster and more effective investigation process. Initially, a plan needs to be prepared that contains the following steps:

  • Preparation
  • Evidence collection
  • Evidence evaluation
  • Findings reporting
  • Conclusion of the investigation 

Before starting the investigation process, it is advised that the investigator or investigation team inform the organisation of every step they will take and why. 


The preparation step of the investigation process can be lengthy. It involves a number of different actions, including assessing the complaint to determine whether it should be an internal or external investigation. In an external investigation, a third-party firm or investigator is hired to avoid bias and result in a better-quality investigation. In an internal investigation, it is usually the HR team that carries out the investigation process. 

Finding the right investigator can greatly affect the effectiveness of the investigation. An experienced team or individual will approach the investigation process from a stronger viewpoint and will know how to handle most if not all situations. Once the investigation team has been assembled, the company can then identify any potential parties, such as the complainant, any witnesses and the individual the complaint was about (if any). 

The preparation step also looks at the policies or laws that were allegedly breached. The scope, goal and timeline of the investigation process should also be determined during this step as it ensures the team is prepared to conduct a more effective investigation with less confusion. 

Moreover, a more effective investigation requires a high degree of confidentiality. Confidentiality means that information won’t be leaked to outsiders that may influence the witnesses’ memories. If details are shared with external parties, they might comment on the investigation without being directly involved. Comments such as: “I heard X happened instead of X” coming from a person who was not a witness can alter the memories of people who experienced an incident. If comments are focused on the personalities of the people involved, they might result in a less truthful witness statement as witnesses start to doubt themselves. 

effective investigation

Evidence collection

Evidence collection involves gathering physical and digital evidence as well as conducting interviews. During this step, to achieve a more effective investigation it is advised that:

  • a copy is made of the original evidence, so nothing gets lost, stolen and can be found in the case of a misplacement. Our customers use Polonious to store their original documents, as we provide them with a secure system that protects all of their files
  • during interviews, the interviewer should focus on open-ended questions and stay away from heavy, accusatory questions. For example, questions such as ‘Are you a strict manager?’ should be avoided as they could lead to the interviewee becoming defensive and refusing to open up
  • the questions asked should not provide any type of answer. For example, ‘Do you come to work through x hallway?’ should be replaced by ‘How do you come into the office?’. Questions should also be simple, which means the investigator should focus on one topic at a time
  • All parties are given a deadline by which evidence needs to be submitted or sent to the investigator. Moreover, interview scheduling should be flexible. 

Evidence evaluation

Evidence evaluation is as important as the evidence collection step. An effective investigation process requires the investigator to look at all types of evidence objectively. A more effective investigation means that:

  • the investigator should always look for contradictions in any type of evidence. This could include false stories or edited evidence
  • evidence is placed in chronological order to avoid any timing mistakes
  • body language should not be used to determine the credibility and reliability of evidence. This is because everyone can be nervous during the investigation process, whether they did something wrong or not. An investigation is stressful for everyone involved and the investigator has not spend enough time with the employees to know how they react to certain questions 
  • allow enough time for evidence evaluation and the potential need for additional evidence. During this step, the investigator may find that the evidence they collected is not enough to paint a full picture. In a scenario like this, it is better to reach out for additional evidence rather than make assumptions, even if it’s considered ‘harmless’. This is especially true with regard to interviews – per the above point, the only way to determine truthfulness in interviews is to check against established facts and accounts from other interviews – so you may need to re-interview some people.

Findings reporting

An investigation report should follow after all evidence has been evaluated. An effective investigation report is detailed but concise and sticks to facts rather than bias and feelings or thoughts. Effective investigation reports don’t include personal language such as I think and I feel. They state the facts clearly, in simple terms that everyone can understand. An investigation report is not useful when it confuses its reader. 

The layout of the report is also essential in showing the reader how the conclusion was reached and what methodology the investigator used to come to this conclusion. An effective investigation should include:

  • An introduction
  • Summaries (of the incident, allegations)
  • Body containing details, evidence and potential limitations
  • Findings 
  • Conclusion 
  • Recommendations

Short paragraphs and the use of dot points can also contribute towards a better-written and more effective investigation report. 

Please note: An investigator is not a judge. An investigator won’t decide whether someone is innocent or guilty. 

Conclusion of the investigation

The final step of the investigation process determines whether the company conducted an effective investigation. The recommendations provided in the investigation report need to be acted on to ensure that the process is taken seriously by the organisation. Some outcomes could be:

  • Suspension
  • Dismissal
  • Re-training 
  • Relocation

In a scenario where the complainant or the accused were not happy with the conclusion, it is important that the company takes swift action in emphasising the consequences of retaliation. Retaliation in the workplace won’t benefit the employer or the employee and will only lead to further problems. This is why it is crucial that the employees see how comprehensive and unbiased the investigation was. It will reassure them that the company didn’t side with anyone in particular and look at things from an objective point of view. 

Managers should take some time to discuss the outcomes with the employees involved and check whether they need support. Regular check-ins are recommended for ensuring the employee is affected as little as possible by the investigation and they are able to continue day to day tasks with minimal difficulty. 

Always working for a better result

An effective workplace investigation requires many steps to be taken to ensure that everything runs smoothly. The best way to improve an investigation is better communication by all stakeholders involved in the process as well as documenting every decision and action. This will allow the organisation and the investigation team to look back at how they handled the situation and decide whether a step was skipped or if more needs to be done. 

The interviews during the investigation are as important as the conversations after the investigation. Take some time to check in on employees and see how they are doing. Another important detail to remember is not to rush any step of the investigation process. An effective investigation can take time and a rushed one can lead to unnecessary mistakes. 

Can we help?

Polonious has been helping multiple investigators over the years conduct a more effective investigation. We provide them with a secure storage system where they can upload all their evidence including images, videos, documents and more. We don’t only help them make the investigation more effective but more efficient as well. Polonious looks for ways to cut down administrative time by automating case updates, reminders and improving investigation workflows. 

We offer flexible pricing, in-person training and the ability to access all information from one place. You get to decide who has access to case files, allowing for a more confidential process. Do you want to see how our system works? Book a demo!