Workplace investigation questions

Asking the right type of question in a workplace investigation is crucial. An investigator should ask questions that challenge and test the credibility of the information being given. The manner in which a question is asked is equally important. Professionalism is key. The investigator should not intimidate or lead the interviewee in a workplace investigation.

An investigator’s role is to gather the full facts from the interviewee while maintaining control of the meeting.

Workplace investigation questions

Ask open questions

Open questions can provide a good source of information. A response to an open question requires thought and may encourage the interviewee to open up. Examples include:

Describe exactly what happened…

What reason do you have for being late?

Explain exactly what you saw…

Talk me through what you heard…

What sort of impression did you form of…

Questioning techniques for a workplace investigation

While open questions can be used to garner more information, a closed or specific question can help an investigator to gather or confirm specific facts. With a definitive, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer, there is no grey area. This type of question can also help an overly talkative interviewee to focus on the facts. A closed question is an effective way of ensuring that an investigator has perfectly understood a response to an open question.

Sample workplace investigation closed questions

Remember, it is an investigation not an interrogation. This is about establishing the facts. Closed questions could be along the lines of;

What time did you leave?

How many times did that happen?

Did you know that you were breaching Health and Safety by your actions?

Did you speak with your manager about that?

Who else was there?

Probing workplace investigation questions

Probing questions can test the strength of an interviewee’s previous answer. They help to extract further information to the response given to an open question and provide the opportunity to challenge any inconsistencies. Again, it is important to phrase a probing question so that it is inquisitive rather than interrogative.

Workplace investigation questions

Stay calm and professional

Don’t underestimate the value of silences. A good investigator will avoid the temptation to fill an awkward silence. Allow the interviewee time to reflect and think about their response before asking the next question.

Examples of probing questions

Can you describe exactly how you felt about that?

Why do you believe that to be the case?

You mentioned earlier that…can you elaborate?

A great deal of new information may be imparted during a workplace investigation. It is important to summarise a discussion point to ensure that the correct information has been recorded. This time also provides the interviewee with the opportunity to reflect on what they have said and correct any inaccuracies or missing information.

A summary question could be, ‘So, can I clarify that you left your workplace at 4pm to attend an emergency at home and you were not able to return to work?’

Questioning approaches to avoid in a workplace investigation

1 Interrogative questions

The wrong approach and tone can lead to an interviewee becoming defensive and refusing to divulge information which could be crucial to the investigation.

So, instead of asking, ‘Why did you do that?’ an investigator could ask, ‘What made you decide to do that?’

2 Leading questions

A leading question can often reflect the assumptions of the interviewer as they lead the interviewee to give an answer that they expect (or hope) to hear. This type of question should be avoided as the value of the response is diminished and the information may be unreliable.

Examples of leading questions include,

‘I suppose you regret your actions, don’t you?’

‘You enjoy responsibility, don’t you?’   

‘Your health is fine, isn’t it?’

3 Multiple questions

A multiple question, such as, ‘What was your main responsibility, did you like it and why?’ will likely lead to a fairly long-winded answer which focuses on the part the interviewee is most comfortable answering. A multiple question can cause confusion and this type of question should be avoided at all costs.

If you need help with a workplace investigation, please get in touch to book your free, 30 minute consultation.

The following guides may also be useful.

A guide to suspending an employee

How to conduct investigations at work

How to chair an appeal hearing

Disciplinary procedures in the workplace

Attendance management

How to deal with difficult staff