Being able to conduct a competent workplace investigation is essential for employers, especially when allegations of bullying, misconduct or inappropriate office behaviour are made.
Mistakes made during an investigation may result in serious consequences, including legal action.
Let's take a look at the basics of an investigation, and some key mistakes to avoid.
Workplace investigations are used to establish whether conduct or incidents occurred as alleged by the complainant, and to ensure that appropriate action is taken.
Investigations are necessary when:
An investigation involves the unbiased gathering and evaluation of relevant and objective evidence, for example by interviewing witnesses and involved parties, reviewing documentary evidence, and or doing a site inspection.
The conduct, once it established that it occurred, is then measured against the organisation's policies and procedures, Code of Conduct, regulations or legislation, to determine whether a breach has occurred.
Significant mistakes which can occur during an investigation include:
The appropriate person to investigate is often determined by the nature of the complaint or allegation - depending on the situation, it may be appropriate to have a senior manager or a member of the Human Resources department review an allegation.
Avoid actual, perceived or potential conflicts of interest. The investigator must be a neutral party, not someone who is closely connected to the matter, who has had prior involvement in it, who has a direct interest in the outcome or may be a witness in the matter.
When determining who to appoint as an investigator, it is also crucial to assess who has the right level of experience and appropriate skills.
This was highlighted in a High Court case involving Patrick Stevedores, where an HR manager was appointed to conduct a serious misconduct investigation. However, her lack of experience meant that she failed to gather crucial evidence supporting the dismissal of an employee - who was ultimately found to have been unfairly dismissed.
In some circumstances, it may not be appropriate to investigate a complaint in-house. Some reasons to appoint an external investigator include;
If the allegation involves an internal procedure or a matter involving particular expertise (such as a medical incident occurring in a hospital) then it may be more appropriate to engage an internal investigator, or have both external and internal investigators working together.
There are many situations in which a poor workplace investigation can have serious consequenced for a business. It can lead to adverse legal action - such as in the Patrick Stevedores case. It can also result in serious mental health implications for staff who are unfairly treated during the investigative process, with a subsequent increase in resignations or terminations. It can also result in failure to meet legal or procedural requirements set by external oversight bodies.
When making decisions in relation to workplace investigations, employers should:
Are you concerned about a lack of knowledge or the risk of making mistakes in your workplace investigations? WISE Workplace is able to offer both full and supported investigation services. In addition, we can train your staff in how to conduct effective workplace investigations.
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