Investigating an issue in the workplace early can help to identify and resolve problems before they escalate. Demonstrating that, as an employer, you take complaints and employee issues seriously can benefit the impression your employees have of the organisation. You are also less likely to end up defending your organisation in an employment tribunal.
Many different issues can arise when you are an employer; possible theft or fraud, bullying or harassment, or problems outside of work affecting what goes on inside the workplace, for example. These issues can result in grievance or disciplinary procedures being activated and the importance of a good investigation becomes paramount.
It is important to be fair and consistent when dealing with employees as well as showing that you have zero tolerance for certain issues. A thorough investigation is the essential basis for this.
It is important that the investigator can be respected as a neutral person as far both you and the employee are concerned. The investigator should have no previous involvement with the issue. They should be open-minded and objective as well as thorough. Sometimes it can be necessary to use an outside HR Consultant to ensure this but a previously uninvolved manager or Director can take the reins.
We’ve all heard of cases that drag on and on – usually in the public sector, however, this is not a good look for an employer who ends up in an employment tribunal.
To demonstrate that you take the issue seriously – make sure you act quickly. Taking an unreasonable amount of time to start an investigation could result in other employee complaints and could look unimpressive should you reach the tribunal stage.
Results of mismanaging a complaint
A recent example of mismanaging a complaint reached the news recently, that of Azeem Rafiq and the Yorkshire Cricket Club. Mr Azeem complained about an alleged racial slur against him and the Club’s mishandling of the complaint led to public outrage, loss of reputation, sponsorship and business for the club. They have so far narrowly avoided legal action.
Always investigate a complaint thoroughly. The investigator should decide on the parameters before starting but should be ready to extend them if the unexpected arises. All potential witnesses should be interviewed where that is possible.
Copious notes should be kept on all conversations pertaining to the issue and witnesses asked to sign statements. A clear and thorough report on the findings is essential once the investigation concludes along with a recommendation on how to proceed.
Types of investigation
There are many different types of investigations you may have to get involved in such as grievances, disciplinaries, minor complaints and health and safety breaches. In each case the investigator needs to decide if there is a case to answer, ensure everyone involved is treated fairly, gather evidence from all sides and must help you as the employer to decide what to do next.
Often issues can be resolved informally but occasionally you will make a decision to proceed with a formal procedure.
Contact Liz Jewer on 07803 007591 if you need advice on a workplace issue or an investigation.