What are Common Workplace Issues that Spark an Internal Investigation?

workplace investigation examples

Creating a welcoming company culture matters – it’s a must. But even in healthy workplaces, interpersonal workplace issues inevitably arise now and then. And unresolved issues can boil over fast.

Research suggests that some 85% of people deal with interpersonal drama on the job. In the U.S., employees face, on average, around 2 hours of friction per week.

And when tensions escalate into misconduct allegations, leaders carry the burden of responding fairly amid high emotions. But knee-jerk reactions often cause more harm than good.

Instead, certain situations demand stepping back and investigating what happened before taking action. Basing decisions on thorough inquiry rather than rumors or gut reactions avoids inflaming problems.

Here, we’ll walk through common workplace conduct issues that require formal internal investigations.

Harassment Allegations Require Sensitive Handling

Due to the prevalence and severity of issues like sexual misconduct, employee intimidation, and verbal threats, regulations rightfully mandate prompt and rigorous responses.

When claims emerge around harassment, organizations face competing priorities to treat the accuser respectfully while avoiding rush judgments against the accused. Tensions and emotions understandably run high. Careful yet quick investigation represents the only method to cut through the complexity in search of factual answers.

Each situation deserves unbiased gathering and weighing of accounts if companies hope to avoid litigation or backlash, and maintain trust.

Discrimination Accusations Also Necessitate Deeper Review

Alongside harassment, when employees feel profiled, stereotyped, or denied opportunities due to race, gender, age, disability status, or other protected class characteristics, it can be incredibly harmful.

Careful investigation of discrimination claims reviews details like decision timelines, similar cases, communications records, and interviews. The goal is to understand precisely what happened without the guessing games.

Their findings guide appropriate coaching, training, or separation actions. Investigations provide the insights required to continually improve.

Problematic Conduct Patterns Also Raise Red Flags

Beyond isolated harassment and discrimination incidents, troubling workplace conduct patterns tend to require deeper investigation as well.

This can include:

  • Abusive Employee Conflicts: Ongoing conflicts between employees that spiral out of control may require mediation or management involvement.
  • Policy Contraventions: Ethics breaches, safety violations, timecard fraud, confidential data leaks, and other purposeful rule-breaking rarely stay isolated one-offs.
  • Problematic Managerial Conduct: Unprofessional comments, explosive anger displays, personal relationship boundary crossings, and other troublesome leadership behaviors degrade culture.

In these cases, investigations examine systemic factors enabling recurring issues in search of root causes for permanent solutions. They may reveal the need for updated codes of conduct, refreshed training, or personnel changes.

While easily cast aside as interpersonal squabbles, lingering behavioral problems fester, expose companies to liability, and speed up employee turnover when ignored.

Workplace Violence, Threats, and Bullying Must Not Get Ignored

Acts involving workplace violence, overt threats, and persistent bullying corrode organizational culture. Yet alarming numbers of employees report experiencing inappropriate behavior.

Surveys show that nearly 50 million Americans are bullied at work — that’s around 30% facing bullying firsthand, while almost 20% report seeing it happen to someone else. Given that nearly half the country’s workforce is exposed to these harmful patterns, unaddressed misconduct requires closer review.

Investigations can establish the facts and address any immediate safety risks. Leaders can then respond firmly through training, monitoring, or penalties to prevent future issues.

If intimidating behavior continues unchecked, it signals that policies and culture fail to protect employees. This erodes trust and well-being long-term.

Retaliation and Whistleblowing Complaints Require Extra Protection

Employees who report issues or participate in investigations rightfully feel apprehensive about retaliation. Their courage to raise concerns exposes them to risk.

Any suspected retaliation against those reporting misconduct or cooperating with inquiries requires investigation. Ignoring retaliation suppresses transparency and trust.

Leaders must reaffirm anti-retaliation policies through decisive inquiry actions defending those who raise issues of public interest.

Pay Disparity Concerns Call for Equity Analysis

Increasingly, pay data reveals inequities disadvantaging women and racial minorities. For example, women still earn over 15% less than men in 2022. Relatedly, women of color face some of the largest wage gaps – earning just 50 to 60 cents for every dollar paid to white male peers.

Once identified, pay disparities demand a closer inspection of what factors enable unequal rates.

The Complexity of Workplace Issues Makes Investigations Essential

Well-run internal investigations defend against potential legal action and erroded trust. They also signal to stakeholders that leadership remains committed to due process, evidence gathering, and sound decision-making – even during periods of friction.

If your organization is facing workplace disputes or misconduct allegations, experienced counsel provides invaluable guidance. Here at The Norfus Firm, our investigations prioritize thoroughness, speed, organization, and the highest level of transparency.

We implement meticulous, equitable reviews so all voices get heard while arriving at truthful conclusions. Collaborating with us leads organizations past turbulence stronger than before.

Reach out today to schedule a consultation. Whether an isolated issue or a systemic matter, we empower leadership through ethical inquiries.

Author Bio


Natalie E. Norfus is the Founder and Managing Owner of The Norfus Firm. With nearly 20 years of experience as a labor and employment attorney and HR/DEI practitioner, Natalie is known for her creative problem-solving skills. She specializes in partnering with employers to develop effective DEI and HR strategies, conducting thorough internal investigations, and providing coaching and training to senior leaders and Boards of Directors.

Throughout her career, Natalie has held various significant roles in HR and DEI. She has served as the Chief Diversity Officer for multi-billion-dollar brands, where she was responsible for shaping the vision of each brand’s DEI initiatives. She has also worked as outside counsel in large law firms and in-house before establishing her own firm.

LinkedIn | Facebook | State Bar Association | Google