Independent Workplace Investigations

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The outcome of a workplace investigation can impact far beyond the personnel involved. A poorly managed investigation can prolong internal disputes, escalate conflict, and wreak havoc on employee morale.

Organizations that fail to preserve impartiality and confidentiality in internal investigations can face additional allegations and potential legal penalties.

Partnering with a workplace investigation service can help organizations avoid these pitfalls when handling internal disputes. Independent workplace investigations aim to help employers understand an event of misconduct or wrongdoing from a fair and objective viewpoint.

Once the facts are clear, employers are better positioned to address the matter and bring it to a close with minimal disruption to the organization.

Workplace investigations are more than a way to protect your organization from legal liability. When handled with sensitivity and integrity, they also demonstrate your commitment to a fair and ethical work environment for employees and other stakeholders.

Why Choose Our Services

Human resources (HR) or an internal conflict-resolution team may not handle all disputes effectively. Some scenarios where partnering with an external investigation service is advisable include:

    • Your in-house team doesn’t have the resources or capacity. Smaller organizations may be unable to spare the resources needed to probe the depths of a dispute sufficiently. HR teams dealing with a large organization’s high volume of work may have their hands full and aren’t prepared to lead an in-depth inquiry.
    • The issue involves a large number of employees or documents. Outside help can be essential to avoid disruption to workflow, especially when the scope of evidence is extensive.
  • An investigator is involved in or a witness to the misconduct. Avoiding conflicts of interest is crucial when handling any workplace dispute. If an investigator is accused of wrongdoing or a witness to it, they cannot take part in any inquiry or decisions about disciplinary action.
  • The allegations are severe or complex. Establishing the facts in a workplace violence investigation or other highly sensitive issue often requires high competency and rigor.
  • A party makes a claim against executives or other organizational leaders. Investigations into misconduct perpetrated by senior leaders often face credibility concerns. Retaining external investigators ensures objectivity and can help mitigate allegations of bias.
  • The dispute attracts attention from the media. An independent investigation service can help manage public perception throughout an inquiry. Securing the services of a professional external firm demonstrates a commitment to transparency and can help protect an organization’s reputation.

At Smithey Law Group, our team of independent investigators includes award-winning employment attorneys in Maryland with extensive experience with Maryland’s employment laws. As a firm representing employers and employees in labor disputes, we’re dedicated to upholding credibility and impartiality in all our investigative services. Our skills and experience as strategic litigators enable us to navigate even challenging and legally complex disputes with sensitivity, rigor, and transparency.

Our Investigation Process

Just as every organization has a unique mission and culture, no two workplace incidents or investigations are alike. We tailor each investigation to meet the situation’s demands and our clients’s concerns.

Initial Consultation and Case Assessment

Every inquiry starts with a consultation defining the investigation’s scope and purpose. We’ll meet with your organization’s leadership, HR representatives, and other relevant parties to establish the basic facts and protocols around the incident.

We’ll discuss your vision of our role and our conclusion’s ultimate form. In some cases, organizations prefer a final report that’s strictly factual. Others may request recommendations for the next steps, including corrective and disciplinary actions.

Our consultation will also establish critical policies around confidentiality and information sharing. Will the investigation be entirely confidential? Is privilege involved? Secure communication channels, including anonymous hotlines and email addresses, can be established.

We’ll work together to set clear procedures for reviewing relevant documents and communication and who has the final say on any decisions.

Collect Witness Statements and Conduct Interviews

Gathering statements from any parties involved should start as soon as possible. Over time, individuals become more susceptible to forgetting important details or falling prey to outside influence.

It’s essential to speak with all relevant witnesses, not just those whose testimony supports the claims of wrongdoing. We’re sensitive to the fact that some employees may hesitate to make a statement for fear of retaliation. We address these concerns with empathy and honesty, ensuring employees understand relevant confidentiality protocols and their rights.

When necessary, we can also interview witnesses and the individual under investigation. This can be beneficial when a witness’s statement is unclear or contradictory. An interview with the employee accused of misconduct can also serve as a valuable basis for comparison to any future testimony made in a disciplinary hearing.

Gather and Analyze Evidence

We take a meticulous approach to identifying and reviewing all available documentary evidence. This may include emails, memos, digital messages, personnel files, handbooks, written policies and procedures, training records, and employment contracts. We will ensure all relevant evidence is preserved and compiled in a package for efficient review.

Our investigators will then thoroughly examine the evidence to ensure we’ve covered the intended scope of the inquiry. We inspect all witness statements for inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and any sign of collusion. We will also conduct a final assessment of the investigation process to confirm that the inquiry remained free of bias or unfairness.

Prepare Final Report

You will receive our findings in a detailed written evaluation, with recommendations for further action if requested. Our team can also collaborate with you to provide a separate, public-facing report of our findings.

Common Issues We Address

Our investigators have experience conducting inquiries into a variety of different workplace conflicts and sensitive issues, including:

  • Employee grievances—harassment, bullying, and discrimination;
  • Disciplinary matters—violations of company policy or misconduct;
  • Allegations of criminal behavior—sexual misconduct, workplace violence investigations, and theft of company property; and
  • Compliance concerns—whistleblowing and inquiries into unlawful or unethical business practices.

Our team has led investigations for large and small organizations across various industries. We confidently approach sensitive disputes at all organizational levels with tact and integrity.

Common Concerns in Independent Workplace Investigations

No matter the issue, a workplace investigation can have high stakes for all involved. We prioritize communicating clearly and consistently with our clients and personnel throughout the process to address any concerns.

Independent Workplace Investigations and Legal Privilege

Investigations are an essential part of fostering a fair and safe workplace. However, some findings may open an organization to legal or reputational risks if made public. Claiming legal privilege over some or all of an investigation can help safeguard against unwanted exposure to sensitive information. Privilege may apply in several areas during a workplace investigation, including:

  • Legal advice relating to the matter under investigation,
  • Reports and notes made by lawyers during the investigation process, and
  • Certain communications or documents prepared for ongoing or anticipated litigation.

However, which statements or documents qualify for legal privilege depends on the context of their creation and the specific circumstances of the investigation. If you plan to claim privilege over all or part of an investigation, it’s important to communicate that to your independent investigator from the start. This will ensure we can institute the appropriate protocols to keep sensitive information safe and compliant with legal standards.

Independent Workplace Investigations and Data Protection

Collecting and analyzing data is a vital part of any internal investigation. Ensuring that pertinent data is stored and shared responsibly is both an ethical and a legal duty. Our team takes pains from the start of any investigation to establish transparent and proactive data use procedures for the limited duration of our inquiry.

Through careful collaboration, we establish a protocol for gathering and protecting sensitive information according to the standards set down by Maryland law and employers’s data protection policy.

Independent Workplace Investigations and Stakeholder Engagement

Participating in a workplace investigation can be stressful for all people involved. Every dispute has multiple stakeholders, each of whom may have different expectations and desired outcomes. It’s important to offer reasonable support to concerned stakeholders without compromising the investigation’s impartiality.

Regular and clear communication is the cornerstone of balanced stakeholder engagement. Take time to educate stakeholders about the logistical aspects of the investigation. Explain the process’s expected timeline, the steps involved (where appropriate), institutional policies, and potential outcomes.

Ensure stakeholders understand their rights and that protocols are in place to protect impartiality and confidentiality. If there are any conflicts of interest, identify them and address them immediately. Continue to provide regular updates about the status of the inquiry as appropriate.

Transparent and timely communication throughout the process can help manage expectations and minimize conflict.

Frequently Asked Questions

When Should You Investigate in the Workplace?

It’s best practice to initiate an investigation as soon as possible after an employment dispute arises. The sooner an investigation begins, the lower the risk of losing important evidence. An independent workplace investigation should precede any disciplinary hearings or other punitive actions.

Who Should Conduct the Investigation?

An experienced professional with no personal involvement in the issue should lead a workplace investigation. The professional can be someone internal to the company or retained through an independent organization. In either case, an investigator should have sufficient time to gather and analyze evidence without compromising fairness and impartiality.

Can a Company Investigate You Without You Knowing?

Your employer can legally investigate allegations against you without your knowledge. However, they must take steps to respect your rights to privacy under Maryland and federal law.

Can You Refuse to Participate in an Investigation?

You can refuse to participate in a workplace investigation, but doing so may result in disciplinary action on behalf of your employer. In many cases, employers have a legal duty to investigate reports of wrongdoing in the workplace. If you’re an at-will employee, it’s not illegal for your boss to fire you for insubordination if you inhibit an investigation.

How Long Do Workplace Investigations Typically Take?

The length of a workplace investigation can vary significantly depending on the situation. Some investigations can be conducted in just a few days, while others may require months to compile and review relevant information thoroughly.

What Rights Do Employees Have During Investigations?

Employees involved in or the subject of an investigation still hold several rights under state and federal law. These rights include protections from targeted harassment and discrimination based on personal qualities like race, sex, religion, age, or disability.

Employees also have the right to take part in an investigation without fear of employer retaliation. It’s illegal for your employer to threaten, demote, fire, or otherwise punish you for reporting or participating in inquiries into workplace wrongdoing.

How Can Workplace Investigations Prevent Future Conflicts?

The independent perspective of an external evaluator can help an organization identify the root causes of employee misconduct, conflict, or disciplinary issues. A thorough workplace investigation can help organizations devise corrective actions or policies to address the issues underlying these conflicts preemptively.

Contact Us

We understand that navigating the complicated legal and personal dynamics of workplace misconduct can be challenging. As legal professionals, we’ve seen firsthand the damaging consequences of mishandled workplace investigations. The team of independent investigators at Smithey Law Group has helped numerous organizations maintain safe and compliant workplaces under Maryland and federal employment law. With our insights as trained litigators and mediators, we’re prepared to help bring credibility and security to your organization’s investigation. Contact our office by phone or online to learn more about our services.