How to Conduct a Workplace Investigation to Uncover the Facts and Set a Corrective Course

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Sexual Harassment has been reported – now what? Conduct a Workplace Investigation!


With the rise of the #metoo movement and increasing awareness of inappropriate conduct at work, employers know they must take measures to prevent potential occurrences in their organizations. But what should they do if an employee does accuse their coworker of harassment?

Upon receiving a harassment complaint, an employer must initiate a fair process to uncover what happened and then take steps to correct the situation. The most effective way to do this is by conducting a workplace investigation.

Workplace investigations allow employers to uncover the facts and determine events as they happened. They can be used to address many other sensitive issues besides harassment complaints, such as policy breaches, interpersonal conflict, and disciplinary issues.

To demonstrate the workplace investigation process, we present the following fictitious scenario. As you read along, see if you can identify any steps that you are currently taking at your organization.


Sexual Harassment at Work: The Incident

Bob and Sally are working together on a software project at mid-size tech firm Sonos. During a meeting in Sally’s shared office, Bob excitedly explains his plans, jumping up to pace as he gesticulates with his hands. As he moves behind Sally, he begins to punctuate his speech by touching Sally’s upper arm. It starts as a gentle pat, but by the third time, he has placed a solid grip on her shoulder.

Sally is extremely uncomfortable but she doesn’t know how to react. Bob has never touched her this way in their three years of working together. She’s questioning herself and is inwardly panicking. Sally’s posture becomes rigid but Bob doesn’t detect her distress.

Sally’s officemates Barbara and Tan enter the room after their lunch break. Both notice Bob’s hand on Sally’s shoulder. Barbara registers Sally’s stiffness but doesn’t say anything. Tan also notices and instinctively moves closer to Bob, reaching for a handshake that will move Bob’s hand from Sally.  

With this interruption, the meeting soon ends and Bob leaves the shared office. Sally is shaking. She knows that what happened isn’t ok. That night, she can’t sleep as anxiety washes over her.

The next day, Sally writes out a complaint against Bob and delivers it to her manager Hakim. In her report, Sally details events as she experienced them, and names Barbara and Tan as witnesses.  

When Hakim reads the complaint, he starts to feel stressed: it’s the first time he’s ever received one, and he isn’t sure what to do. He reads the company policy for guidance and sees that he must investigate Sally’s claim. Unsure of exactly how to proceed, he contacts independent HR consultant Marisa for assistance.



The Five Steps of a Workplace Investigation:

  1. Collect the Information

  2. Review the facts

  3. Identify key findings

  4. Plan corrective action

  5. Make Recommendations


The Workplace Investigation

Marisa and Hakim draft a course of action, beginning with arranging interviews with all parties named in Sally’s complaint and preparing questions to ask each of them. Their goal is to obtain the facts and to ascertain if sexual harassment did occur. During the interviews, Marisa takes careful notes to ensure everything is accurately documented.

During Bob’s interview, he expresses remorse for Sally’s suffering. He says had no idea what he did was sexual harassment. In fact, he doesn’t recall touching Sally but confesses he can get pretty “hands-on” when he’s feeling passionate about an idea. He feels terrible.

Tan tells Hakim and Marisa that he noticed Sally’s discomfort right away and knew that Bob shouldn’t be touching her. However, he didn’t feel comfortable addressing it outrightly as Bob is Tan’s senior and he didn’t want to appear insubordinate. Tan explains that instead, he tried to diffuse the situation by distracting Bob with a handshake.  

Barbara says she thought it was odd that Bob was touching Sally, but she thinks Sally is being overdramatic by lodging a formal complaint. She tells Hakim and Marisa that this kind of thing used to happen all the time when she was younger. She says Sally just needs to get over it.


The Findings

After reviewing the interview notes and consulting both Sonos’ harassment and discrimination policy and provincial employment legislation, Hakim and Marisa find that Bob did commit sexual harassment by inappropriately touching Sally.

They decide that because Bob did not have intent to harm and he has demonstrated remorse, discipline is not needed in this case. However, Bob must receive sexual harassment education so Marisa arranges for him to attend training with a reputable firm.

Hakim and Marisa also determine that Bob and Sally should not work together for at least six months and have limited contact. Sally is still experiencing anxiety since the incident and she needs space from Bob to recover. Hakim also suggests that she receive therapeutic treatment for her anxiety through Sonos’ Employee Assistance Program.



Marisa recommends that all employees review Sonos’ harassment and discrimination policy immediately. She also suggests that the company consider refresher sexual harassment training for all employees.



Marisa prepares a workplace investigation report detailing her findings and recommendations to Sonos’ leadership team. They recognize that sexual harassment in the workplace is not acceptable and take immediate steps to implement Marisa’s recommended action.


The Five Steps of a Workplace Investigation:

The above scenario illustrated the five steps of a workplace investigation:

  1. Collect the information: Hakim and Marisa conducted interviews with all involved parties and consulted relevant policies, procedures, and legislation
  2. Review the facts: they assembled all of the facts to form their conclusion
  3. Identify key findings: Hakim and Marisa looked for underlying themes and root causes: in this case, Bob’s ignorance of what constitutes sexual harassment
  4. Plan corrective action: They planned a clear course of action to address the situation
  5. Make recommendations: Marisa recommended additional improvements to the leadership team to ensure future incidents would be prevented


Most workplace issues requiring investigation are sensitive in nature and are best handled by an objective party. If your organization does not have an HR department, we recommend outsourcing your investigation to a consulting firm such as Pivot HR Services. We are experienced in conducting investigations discreetly and in the strictest confidence.


To discuss your workplace investigation, contact us today at 604.916.6199 or


Related Links:

Learn more about Pivot HR Services’ workplace investigation services

The #Metoo Movement and Sexual Harassment in the workplace 

How to Create Postive Workplace Culture 


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