There are many pitfalls when conducting workplace investigations. One of the most important is maintaining confidentiality. Employees undergoing a disciplinary process or who have raised a grievance deserve confidentiality and, in a situation where trust may have been lost, passing on private information can make things worse. Telling a witness what another has said or if the investigator gives a personal opinion are no-nos.
Investigations must be thorough and unbiased and it can be easy to be persuaded by one side of an argument but it is important to speak to everyone involved and to really listen. Leading questions should not be used.
Using a neutral HR Consultant who hasn’t been involved in the issue can be helpful as in-house investigators are more likely to make judgements because they are familiar with those involved.
Why are workplace investigations so important?
In order that an employee gets a fair hearing, it is only right that an investigation is thorough and fair. Aside from that, not completing a fair investigation can land the employer in hot water if matters escalate to an employment tribunal. A tribunal is not the time to be surprised by a piece of evidence you weren’t aware of.
Getting to the truth
It is important to speak to all the key people involved in the issue being investigated. Where statements differ, you would weigh up the probability of one person telling the truth and one not or simply that recollections vary.
What could happen if I get it wrong?
If the investigation is poorly conducted you could have to reinstate an employee who has been dismissed. You may be criticised for not being thorough enough in your investigation in court. It is important to talk to all key witnesses, record statements and collect proper evidence. If an investigation isn’t thorough enough this could result in you not upholding a grievance for example when in fact there was enough evidence to do so.
Another problem that arises often is employers taking too long to investigate workplace issues. This can result in a loss of trust and high stress levels for the employee. This, in turn, can result in further complaints so the whole matter can escalate.
Getting it wrong in a case of sexual harassment could result in an employee being exonerated after a disciplinary hearing but then going on to sexually harass another employee.
Justify your decisions
Well researched evidence in a workplace investigation can give you confidence that you have reached the truth of the situation and, should the case escalate, you know you have a solid base of evidence on which you have based your decisions.
Conducting an impartial investigation
You can use an HR Consultant to ensure neutrality or if you have no other senior managers who haven’t already been involved in the case. The role of the investigator is just fact-finding and they should weigh up the facts on both sides of the issue. The investigator provides evidence based findings which will help you decide either proceeding to a hearing or not. Using an HR Consultant has the added benefit of using a person who will be experienced in workplace investigations.
Taking time to investigate a workplace issue thoroughly can make all the difference in the outcome of a disciplinary matter or a grievance. Contact Liz Jewer on 07803 007591 if you need help with your workplace investigation.