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A Poisoned Workplace

A Workplace Investigation Case History

A Complex Investigation

Most investigations are not this complex. Investigations generally involve only 1 alleged offender. This investigation involved 7 alleged offenders and a number of complaints and counter complaints among the alleged offenders themselves.

These images are illustrative only, simply making the point that investigations involve complex people dynamics.

A Not-for-profit CEO faced a very difficult situation. In the past few months, a number of staff members had come to HR complaining about the behavior of others in their workgroup. Several used the phrase ‘poisoned workplace’ in their complaints. But none of the individuals put their complaints in writing.

The Right Talent was asked to investigate. A dual team of investigators, (our CEO as lead and a HR professional with investigation experience, conducted a 7-month long investigation process. We worked through the following steps, in regular dialogue with the CEO, the VP of Human Resources, and their outside legal counsel.

The process of the investigation was complicated by the fact that during it, two of the alleged Respondents filed union grievances against the Manager and the Director of the work group. Th e investigators took steps to distance themselves from the grievance process, so that their investigation findings reports would not be viewed as ‘serving the interests of management’ during the union-management grievance resolution process.

The 5 Phases of This Investigation

One: Document Alleged Complaints

Interview the original 7 complainants. Prepare a list of alleged complaints against specific individuals. 21 alleged complaints were documented, against 7 individuals, including the two members of the group’s management team (the Manager and the Director).

Two: Decide on Investigative Scope and Approach

Review the 21 alleged complaints with senior management and agree on an investigation approach given the scope of 21 uncovered alleged complaints.

Three: Uncover Initial Evidence

Interview all of the members of the work group to find evidence for the 21 alleged complaints.

Both investigators were present during all of the interviews to forestall any possible ‘lack of fair investigative procedure’ issues. Each interviewer Independently documented each of the interviews since it was decided that they would not be recorded and transcribed. The Investigators cross-checked their notes to see if the uncovered evidence tentatively substantiated or did not substantiate the original 21 alleged complaints.

During this step, the number of discovered alleged complaints grew by more than 20. The uncovered evidence uncovered in this step eventually provided enough material to tentatively substantiate 41 alleged complainants against 7 respondents, with the number of complaints for each individual varying from 1 to 10.

Four: Interview Alleged Offenders / Respondents

Interview the respondents after they had been informed of the alleged complaints against them in writing by the investigators.

Again, both investigators conducted these interviews. The investigators cross-checked their notes to come to final conclusions on these 41 allegations (substantiated, not substantiated, or inconclusive) based on the uncovered evidence.

Five: Present Investigation Findings

Write, deliver, and discuss the following reports with the CEO and the VP of Human Resources.


  1. The Conduct of the Investigation.
  2. Other Insights About the Culture and Working Practices Uncovered During the Investigation.
  3. 7 Reports to the CEO covering the Investigator’s findings on each of the alleged complainants against each individual Respondent.
  4. 7 Respondent Findings Reports, once for each Individual, Respondent which could be used by the CEO, the VP of Human Resources, and outside legal counsel as part of their follow up actions on the findings of the investigation.
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