Getting workplace investigations right
Comprehensive employee workplace investigations are an effective risk management tool and are potentially critical to any defence by an employer in the event of potentially litigious proceedings. They are also important to ensure that possible transgressions are dealt with early and effective procedures are followed to limit liability and exposure.
1. Is the investigation essential?
In the case of low risk situations, it is often better to resolve matters informally without a formal investigation. Equally, don’t make the mistake of side-stepping the investigation process where the outcome of the incident(s) seems so obvious that further enquiries are not necessary. The employee may have a credible explanation or mitigating circumstances which might avoid the requirement for a full formal process.
2. Get the planning right
Certainly, any investigation process will be more efficient if there is a plan in place. It is imperative to consider the content of any allegations and to ensure that the process is fair and transparent. Any short-term action should be considered and discussed before the investigation commences.
3. Establishing the Facts
The investigator should organise interviews, and gather and record any supporting evidence relevant to the proceedings. The seriousness of the events will determine the level of investigation required – however it should not be used as a tool to justify a pre-determined outcome. The investigator must be unbiased and should pursue appropriate lines of enquiry to determine the conclusion and make appropriate recommendations.
4. Producing the report
Following completion of the fact-finding processes, the investigator should assess the detail provided and make reliable, measured conclusions.
The report should be concise and objective. Please remember that any documents created during such a situation may be subject to disclosure in any legal proceedings in the future.
5. Next steps
If it is concluded that formal action is necessary with the possibility of disciplinary sanctions a separate disciplinary meeting will be required. Company disciplinary procedures must be followed.
After the investigation has concluded, it is good practice to follow up with the complainant in the case of grievance investigations to let them know that their allegations were taken seriously and considered.
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See also HR guides, Grievance, Mediation and Disciplinary