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The Importance of Proper Documentation in HR Investigations
Workplace investigations are an important aspect of creating a professional organization that protects both the business and the staff. Proper documentation is a key to thorough investigations. Good documentation reduces an organization’s risks, enhances the accuracy of investigations, and can decrease the impact of lawsuits. Let’s take a closer look at the importance of proper documentation in HR investigations.
What to Document
First, it is important to identify what events to document before an investigation ever takes place. While it is important to document the events within the investigation itself, the best practice is to document important events as they happen. It will be this documentation that an HR manager will use as part of the investigation. Documentation of events as they occur serve to protect the company if a conflict arises. Some of the events that should be documented may include:
- Counseling, discipline and termination of employment
- Discrimination and harassment complaints
- Promotions and demotions
- Events that could lead to adverse employment actions
- Trainings provided to employees1
Any employee handbook, manual, or policies that were provided to the employee should also be documented. If an investigation results in a disciplinary action (e.g., demotion, loss of privileges, termination, etc.), the disciplined should be imposed consistently and in accordance with the employee handbook, manual, or the organization’s policies.2 But, this is only possible if the handbook, manual, or policies are made available to the staff beforehand and documented. Otherwise, the disciplined employee member could easily say he/she was not told of possible penalties of his/her actions. Without the employee handbook, manual, or policies documented, it is difficult to prove the employee knew of the information in those documents and to justify that a specific disciplinary action was appropriate for the circumstances.
Improve Accuracy of Investigations
Timely documentation in HR investigations creates a more reliable account of what happened. Documentation that is maintained as the events unfold are more accurate and more likely to be believed than documentation made an extended period of time after the event.3 For example, if an HR manager immediately documents a conversation with a staff member warning them about inappropriate behavior, that will be viewed as more reliable than if that conversation were documented months after it took place. Like with an employee handbook, manual, and policies, accurate documentation of an event can be useful in the future. Even if no investigation is underway, documenting events when they occur can help in a future investigation.
In addition to documenting any event (before an investigation) that could be useful to a future investigation, it is also important to document all of the aspects of the investigation itself. This record will allow for internal and external collaboration, as well as create a more efficient investigation. It also serves to disprove accusations that an investigation was not properly conducted.4 A complainant or disciplined employee may feel that an investigation was not conducted properly. When this occurs, it may be necessary to provide the documentation indicating all steps of the investigation. This will allow others to see whether an HR manager conducted a proper investigation. Without this documentation, it will be a significant challenge to prove a proper investigation was conducted.
Key for a Strong Legal Defense
Good investigation documentation can mean the difference between a company winning or losing employment-related lawsuits. For example, an employee that was fired for poor performance sues your business saying the firing was actually because of discrimination. The company’s defense will be much stronger if there is documentation of the employee’s poor performance prior to the firing.5 An HR manager who does not keep such documentation will make it very hard to prove that there was a history of poor performance, and that this poor performance, rather than discrimination, was the cause of the termination.
Proper documentation of HR investigations and the events leading up to that event is an essential skill to master for a human resource career. An MS in Human Resource Management helps you learn how to properly document HR events and investigations. But, more than that, a master’s in human resource management can help you acquire the strategic organizational, management, and analytical skills employers are looking for. Plus, earning your human resources degree online allows you to advance your HR career from anywhere and at a pace that is right for you.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Human Resource Management degree program.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
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