HR Investigations: A Case for Case Management  

As an HR consultant, investigator, and educator in the HR profession, I routinely facilitate employee relations and HR investigations training for clients. As I interact with professionals and ask them the question, “So, how do you manage your employee relations and HR investigations case files?” I then get sort of a blank look from everyone in the room or, if on a virtual call, there is generally silence.  I think the reason for the blank look (or silence) is that many HR and Employee Relations’ professionals aren’t managing their case files using any sort of system at all, but rather just using Word document templates that the organization has created and putting those documents into folders. While I’m a fan of using templates to create consistency in processes, this is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg in terms of what is needed to really work efficiently and effectively as an investigator. These days, the number of employee relations’ issues that most HR|ER professionals are dealing with is considerably higher than just a few years ago. So, caseloads are up… We know this firsthand at RPC, because we have organizations reach out to us to place interim HR investigators when they get buried with a high caseload. We have definitely received more of these types of requests over the past two years.

So, let’s talk about the case for case management.

With the increases in the number of employee relations’ cases and actual investigations, suffice it to say that efficiencies need to be put in place and more resources allocated.  Additionally, when I talk with HR|ER professionals about using a case management system, my personal feeling is that it is sort of an abstract question because they don’t understand how it works or the benefits. Essentially, a case management system is a robust software solution that houses all investigations data in one centralized portal.  Imagine what it was like before you had an HRIS?? That’s sort of where a lot of organizations are today, a bit behind in implementing technology to manage employee relations’ cases and investigations.

A concern I have when I talk with investigators about how they are managing their cases is that there just isn’t any sort of business continuity protocol in place. What happens to the cases when an investigator becomes ill? Or, leaves the organization?  The answer should not be, “Well, we keep our records on a shared drive.” Or, “we just use Word docs.” The ability for a successor investigator to acquire the files can be cumbersome, and there can be issues with losing chain-of-custody over documents if they haven’t been securely retained.  Additionally, what I hear from investigators regarding closing of cases and where the case goes, I usually get this response: “Well, we send our files to our boss.” So, then said boss just retains the case file in the HR Director’s office, again in a folder somewhere. This is not a good strategy as there isn’t a good business continuity plan here. Also, shared drives can have a lot of prying eyes looking at them. And, having separate file folders for everything is just not efficient or effective. What I often see when I evaluate organization’s investigative processes are generally a lot of forms (with a lot of boxes that need to be filled in), a lot of separate file folders, and no ability to even look back on previous cases without having to literally comb through dozens of individual folders. Yikes!

My concern with this sort of investigative process is that there isn’t any sort of search function to identify any patterns, such as employees who have had multiple allegations made against them in the past.  Sometimes, the repeated patterns of allegations (by different parties who do not know each other) can be incredibly illuminating.  Why is it that this same inappropriate (perhaps vulgar) phrase has been used, by this Subject, in three previous cases over the past 12 months? And, none of the Complainants know each other? This kind of information is simply invaluable.

Also, it is quite easy for documents to become lost or get inadvertently deleted.  And, separate folders doesn’t facilitate an easy glance of documents added in chronological order. There is time wasted opening and closing files when trying to look for a particular witness statement or other evidence.  With a case management solution, such as HR Acuity that we’ve used for years, we upload every document and piece of evidence right into the case file.  And, we quickly upload emails and extract specific policies that are relevant to a case. So, at a quick glance I can pull in a client’s policy and attach it to the case file. As with any investigation, it is critical to always reference the policy that was in place at the time of the investigation. Policies often change, so it is important to retain a copy of the policy that was in place at the time organizational decisions were made. A good example would be if an investigation substantiated that a Subject violated the organization’s social media policy. If the employer separated the employee from the organization, the investigator would have uploaded the current social media policy into the case file, which supported the decision making at the time.

What we love about our case management solution  at RPC, is that HR Acuity allows us to retain all of our investigative data in one centralized portal. A quick look at the dashboard allows us to see all of our open cases at a glance. And, when consulting with many different employers, as we do to help them with investigations, it is really helpful to stay organized in managing all of our open cases. However, the best benefit is being able to upload evidence without having any sort of file size limit. Many solutions out there have caps on file size, which can be a real headache for an investigator because of the amount of digital evidence we must collect and preserve. Also, my most favorite, is the ability to pull the analytics by pretty much any specified variable, such as number of open cases, cases by type (e.g. national origin discrimination, sexual harassment). With one of our clients we were able to identify through running a report by client, location, and case type (harassment) we were able to determine that his company had one seriously problematic location. By helping this business owner identify the problem by viewing the repeated employee complaints and investigations with allegations of harassment about the general manager, he was able to take action. He counseled the manager and helped her understand that her poor leadership behavior was not in line with organizational values.

So, the case for case management is a really a no-brainer. In today’s HR and ER environment, it is incumbent upon all of us to work more strategically—and that means to analyze what the data on employee relations’ complaints and investigations is telling us.  I like being able to look back on complaints and investigations to see the patterns, such as I mentioned with the situation with the general manager whose behavior was in conflict with organizational values. The CEO was able to make a change there with a leader who just wasn’t a good organizational fit. And, he earned the respect of his team for taking the appropriate action. Had it not been for the analytics from the cases, it would have been a harder decision to influence him to take the necessary action. Because of the robust data from multiple cases involving this manager as the Subject, it influenced his decision to separate the bad manager from the company.  Remember, having the employee relations and investigations case data gives the foundation for influencing meaningful organizational change!

Lastly, the biggest burden on HR|ER investigators today is documentation and preparing an investigation report. With being able to continually upload evidence, such Complainant statements, documents of conversations, etc. into one central portal it also maintains a solid timeline of how the evidence entered the case file. At the click of a mouse, the data entered into the case file is then used to quickly populate into an investigation report.  Yep, no need to write a report because the system does it for you!

I hope this blog post has given you some food for thought about how your team is currently managing employee relations cases and investigations. To learn more about the case solution we use, just go to our case management page for more information.  You can also certainly reach out to me via email at Natalie@HR-investigations.com or via Linkedin messaging if you’re looking for some guidance on how to improve your employee relations and internal investigation processes.

Until next time…

Natalie Ivey, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
President & CEO


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