Workplace Investigations – What to Consider

There are many reasons why an employer may need to conduct an investigation into a problem in the workplace.  Problems involving employees can be really varied, from issues like timekeeping through to complaints of harassment, fraud or poor performance. When problems occur, employers must investigate and determine, as far as is reasonably possible, what really happened. It is essential to carry out a fair and reasonable investigation to ensure the employer can justify decisions should matters lead to an employment tribunal at a later stage.

Who should investigate?

The investigator should not be involved in the complaint or any resulting disciplinary or grievance hearing.

The purpose of an investigation is to collect the facts and carefully consider them before further action is taken. A rigorous investigation is essential to a fair process and it is important the person appointed to investigate understands the importance of collecting all of the relevant data and interviews all witnesses who may have a bearing on the issue, if possible.

It is important to understand that the investigator decides if there is a case to answer, following their investigation, but they do not make any final decision on the disciplinary or grievance matter.

What to consider

There are always two sides to every argument. When interviewing the parties involved, an investigator will ideally interview the parties involved as close to when the matter was brought to the employer’s attention as possible.  If the people involved are known to the investigator, the aim is to forget about what they may have heard about them and to be conscious about remaining unbiased.

It is important to remember that the investigator is judging someone by what the Company policy says and not by what they think of them. It is about behaviour.

Confidentiality is an essential element of the investigation.

Listening and observing in interviews

It is important to actively listen to participants and to look for indicators that a witness may not be telling the truth. Poor eye contact and long silences are often tell-tale signs and it’s a good idea to ask them about such behaviour.

The investigator’s report

The investigator’s conclusions must be backed up by facts in the report.  All documented evidence should be included along with any witness statements.

Workplace mediation

Mediation can be the key to solving a difficult dispute amongst team members, helping them to continue working together in a more peaceful and constructive way. Mediation is less expensive than taking a case to an employment tribunal, it can save time and can be less damaging for all concerned.

Benefits of appointing an external person

Employing an external person to conduct your investigation has numerous benefits. Ideally the person appointed will be experienced in conducting investigations and be familiar with ACAS guidelines. An external investigator is unlikely to be biased as they won’t be familiar with your employees.  If the matter proceeds to a tribunal the employer is less likely to have a concern about whether any investigation was carried out fairly and impartially.

Draw a line

Once an investigation and grievance or disciplinary procedure has taken place, it is important to draw a line under the matter, whilst taking into account any lessons learned.  This allows your team to move forward.  Make this clear to your employees.

How to move forward

Training your managers can help avoid workplace situations arising and escalating.  It can also ensure that managers understand the dangers of avoiding any issues, which can seem like an easy option, but may well cause more problems long term.

For professional help and advice with your workplace investigation or to enquire about management training contact me at liz.jewer@hrthink.co.uk

 

 

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