An HR investigation is necessary when rules, policies and laws in the workplace have been breached. The HR team is responsible for these investigations and they should have received appropriate training and have the skills required to ensure fairness, or engage an investigation firm who does. However, in many cases the team may be perceived as biased by employees and they might not feel comfortable communicating with them which is why organisations should consider other ways to approach the situation.

Polonious can assist companies with conducting an HR investigation by reducing their administrative effort and making it easy for them to store all relevant information. Polonious can help businesses achieve faster turnaround times as they will be able to focus on their work responsibilities and delegate tasks easily. The people involved in the case will only see the data that they are responsible for which will avoid confusion and make the investigation process smoother. If you need help with your HR investigation, contact us now!

An investigation usually follows a complaint made by an employee and the company is responsible for deciding if action needs to be taken. How seriously managers take the complaint and how fast they respond can determine how successful an investigation is. An HR investigation should be handled as a sensitive matter as it could lead to lawsuits and costs for the company if handled incorrectly.

Reasons an HR investigation may be necessary

Unlawful or unethical actions that require an HR investigation include:

  • Discrimination
  • Bullying
  • Health and safety
  • Harassment


 Sometimes employees can be confused about what discrimination involves. One could argue that they were treated differently or reported because of the clothes they wear. If the code of conduct specifies formal workwear and staff do not comply then this is not discrimination from the company’s side, it is non-compliance from the employees. In this scenario, discrimination would occur if the code of conduct does not take into consideration people’s religions, cultures and races – for example, if the dress code or a specific management request required a Muslim woman to remove her hijab.

Another example of discrimination could be a team singling out a staff member because of their sexual orientation and not including them in lunches and outings. In Australia, the Fair Work Act 2009 is in place to protect staff from discrimination based on their colour, sex, age, disabilities and other personal circumstances such as their marital status. Between 2019 and 2020, the Commission received 2,307 complaints related to discrimination.  


Bullying is one of the most common issues that lead to an HR investigation. Bullying involves the repeated mistreatment of employees with the intent to cause harm to them, either physical or psychological. These actions are persistent and aimed toward the same employee because of numerous reasons the bully may come up with such as them coming from a richer background. An example of workplace bullying is aggressive behaviour towards a member of the company which could include offensive language and destructive criticism. Bullying can cause many issues for the victim such as anxiety, panic attacks, loss of self-esteem and depression.

Employers need to take bullying complaints and the HR investigation seriously as staff may be heavily affected by the behaviour and it poses a threat to their well-being. When making negative observations about an employee’s performance, it is best to voice it in a private, polite and honest manner along with giving suggestions for improvement so the employee does not feel attacked or humiliated.

Health and Safety

A worker may complain to HR about health and safety issues within the workplace that will require an incident investigation to be conducted. An unsafe work environment could potentially cause injuries which is why organisations need a procedure that explains what employees should do if they notice a hazard. If it is not reported, it could lead to a near miss or an incident that may be harmful to staff.

A near miss is an unplanned event that has not caused damage but could injure employees in the future. An incident is an unplanned event that has resulted in negative consequences, whether that is property damage, employee health problems or a fatal accident. 


Harassment includes more than just bullying and discrimination. Harassment can be sexual and threatening, unlike bullying, it does not have to be persistent. An individual could harass someone on one occasion and the individual has every right to report it to initiate an HR investigation. An example of sexual harassment is the unwelcomed and nonconsensual touching of private areas of an individual. The victim will be left with a lot of emotions including feeling angry, uncomfortable and annoyed as a result of someone not understanding personal boundaries and personal space.

HR needs to investigate these incidents carefully as they could potentially lead to a legal case. They need to listen to the victims and encourage them to come forward so the business can take corrective action and discourage such behaviour. During an audit, it was found that one in eight  women in emergency services has experienced sexual harassment. Harassment was more frequent in male-dominated workplaces and the nature of it varied but one of the most common acts was suggestive comments. 

HR investigation

HR investigation

Once a complaint is lodged the company needs to determine who will investigate. To ensure that a fair HR investigation is conducted, the organisation needs to ensure that it gives the team the appropriate training that will allow employees to feel comfortable and listened to. This will prevent the staff from thinking that the HR team is biased and is acting only in the interest of the company.

Interviews need to be conducted with all relevant parties to understand better what happened and what actions can be taken to prevent unethical and illegal behaviour in the future. It is advisable to establish order and prioritise the main parties first and then proceed to question the eyewitnesses. Investigators should also ask for any physical evidence such as messages, emails and CCTV footage that can back up claims. 

Once the findings have been assessed the investigator may be able to come to a conclusion. The three possible outcomes are that the incident did happen, the incident did not happen or the investigation was inconclusive. In a health and safety investigation, it could be found that the hazard does not exist or minor changes could be made to reduce the risk.

The company can then decide what the resolution is, whether that is further training, a formal apology or the dismissal of an individual. It is important to communicate with the parties involved in every step of the process so they are informed about the progress of the case and are aware of how the business is handling it.

Make your investigation easier

Do you want a faster turnaround time and a confidential HR investigation? Polonious can help your business access all relevant information from anywhere anytime and give instant updates on the case to managers to make the investigation process easier. If you want to know more about how we can help request a demo!