It’s happened. Despite your best preventative efforts, a psychological hazard has been identified. Or worse, you have received a bullying or harassment claim. Having a solid investigation plan in place is critical to your success in addressing the complaint. In this article, we address key considerations for developing an investigation process to address hazards, violence and injuries that are psychological in nature.

Hint:  Your psychological violence and injury investigation process will be different than how you address physical hazards and injuries.

While your investigation process will not be exactly the same as the one you use to investigate physical hazards and injuries, there are many similarities:

  • Once an incident of any nature is reported it must be investigated in a timely manner. Check out this great resource on five must-do’s when a complaint comes in.

  • In addition to actual incidents that occur and will be investigated; any potential hazards that are identified must also be investigated.

  • As with physical injuries and incidents, claims cannot be ignored and a qualified individual should be assigned to investigate.

  • The goal of the investigation should include not only identifying what happened, but also the underlying causes and remedial actions to prevent future occurrences.

  • Investigators should not be biased or have any personal investment in the outcome or recommendations.

  • If one or more of the parties involved in the incident leave the organization, the situation must still be investigated.

  • The investigation process should be clearly defined so that all employees understand who will be involved, what the steps will be and realistic timelines.

  • You should have internal guidelines as to when external investigators will be brought in.

When creating the investigation policy and process associated with psychological hazards and injuries, some considerations are:

  • There will likely be confidentiality and privacy issues that are not present with physical safety investigations.

  • You may need to remove one or more parties from the situation or workplace in a non-punitive way until the investigation is complete.

  • Your policies should have clear rules and definitions regarding confidentiality and protection from, and consequences of, retaliation for reporting incidents or participating in investigations. All individuals participating should have these clauses given to them or read to them at the beginning of the investigation interview.

  • Investigating bullying, harassment and sexual harassment is similar to, but not the same as, investigating a physical injury. A different investigative skill set is required and the company needs to ensure investigators have the specific skills and experience to investigate these types of incidents.  Individuals with these skill sets are often housed within the HR department.  Even companies with internal, trained investigators will want to bring in external investigators in cases such as when senior leaders are involved or if there is a real or perceived bias on the part of the investigator.  You can find information on determining if your internal investigators are equipped handle these investigations here.

  • Have a plan in place for when to involve legal council. This decision will involve similar criteria to that related to bringing in external investigators.

  • The investigation process should include the development and implementation of corrective actions as well as how to track the effectiveness of the corrective actions. This will often require tracking mechanisms that measure changes in culture such as engagement surveys, stay / exit interviews and culture assessments.

Serious breaches of policy or investigations at senior levels of the organization are a couple of times when you are more likely to require an external investigator. Factors to consider when determining whether to hire an external investigator include:

  • Whether there are people in-house who have skills and experience investigating bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and other forms of psychological harm.

  • Whether senior level leaders are named in the complaint. External investigators are always advised when the most senior levels of an organization are involved due to the inherent power imbalance of an internal investigator and a senior leader – even if they are in differing departments.

  • Is there real or perceived bias due to the relationship of the investigator and those involved? This assessment should include whether the respondent has any real or perceived impact on the assessment or career of the investigator and the history and relationship between the investigator and those involved in the complaint.

  • The seriousness of the claim. If a human rights complaint is anticipated or if serious consequences are a potential, such as termination or demotion, external investigators are recommended.

Additional advice on dealing with sexual harassment complaints can be found here and tips for preventing good investigations from turning bad can be found here. We hope you found this, our sixth article in our eight part series on being compliant with Bill 30 and creating a psychologically safe workplace, helpful. To read the series from the beginning, click here. To go to the previous article on assessing and reporting psychological workplace hazards and incidents, click here.

We hope to see you next week when we will cover the last step in our checklist: Integrating your corporate policies, procedures, tracking and reporting processes.

Activate HR has many years experience with helping organizations create respectful workplace policies, programs and cultures as well as investigating workplace incidents such as bullying, harassment and sexual harassment. Contact us today at for help with your bullying and harassment policy, leader and employee training and investigation needs.