Employee participation in outside investigations

I was talking with one of our employees recently and was quite surprised to learn that they did not realize the importance of reporting participation in an outside investigation. Many of our staff members are located on customer sites, geographically remote from the corporate office. Therefore, if they don’t notify us of an investigation, we have no way of knowing about it. I can remember two instances of this coming up in the past year or two–once handled poorly and once handled well.

Oh, I forgot…

One day I was speaking with an employee about some minute detail (address changes or something equally innocuous) and they casually mentioned responding to someone’s questions about a fellow coworker. After doing some digging, I realized that the employee had been a witness in an investigation by an outside entity to determine if another person in the workplace had done something illegal/unethical. I asked if they had considered reporting that to corporate or the HR office, and the response was fairly typical.

“Oh, I was going to, but I forgot.” 

Sigh. Oh, well. It is what it is, right? So I told them the following story as a reminder for how to handle it next time.

Let me check…

On another customer site, our staff works side by side with other companies supplying contractors for the customer. One day a contractor in the office blew his top. It was the usual yelling, cursing, and general mayhem that accompanies someone under too much pressure. The employee was sent home for the day, and the following day brought with it an investigatory team to determine what had occurred. Being in the office, our employee was naturally asked about the incident. Before he responded or gave a statement, he dropped the golden phrase:

“Let me check with my HR guys first just to make sure it’s okay.” 

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Now, HR doesn’t need to be consulted every time you have to sneeze (that’s a great way to waste time at work), but for something like this that could affect someone’s employment status, it doesn’t hurt to let us in on what’s going on. If there is a possibility that an angry person could come back and cause some level of workplace violence, then it definitely needs to be on our radar.

Just remember: When in doubt, let HR check it out. 

Ever had an employee participate in an outside investigation and have it backfire on you? I’d like to hear how you handled it.