At times during a workplace investigation it may be necessary to manage the expectations of managers especially senior managers. As an investigator you must take control and responsibility for the investigation.
In my experience management expectations/interference/demands comes in three forms;
Expectations around the process – how the investigation is conducted.
When you have been tasked to conduct a workplace investigation getting it right the first time every time is your responsibility. You must have a process and a plan that forms part of your process. The process may include; (these are suggestions not a full list)
Without a process your investigation is more likely to go off the rails. But remember it is your investigation and therefore your process and you must be comfortable with your process.
If managers who are not actually involved in the investigation start telling you how they want you conduct the investigation they may not be aware of the important details such as what evidence you have gathered and what needs to be done.
You need to be able to tell managers that you have a process, you are following the process and you will call upon them if you need assistance and will report to them at the appropriate times if required. If the particular manager has no reason to be involved, direct them to whoever tasked you.
As an external, once I have been engaged I take care of the investigation using my process and provide reports and updates to my clients as needed.
If you are not sure about the process of conducting a workplace investigation I strongly suggest you invest in some training. (see below)
Expectations about the outcome.
When I conduct an investigation I advise all the parties and my clients and managers if required that the outcome of the investigation will be based on the evidence only.
If a manager attempts to exert some influence over the outcome of the investigation he/she should be told the same.
If the outcome of an investigation is based on management expectations or instructions and not evidence leading to a finding on the balance of probabilities adverse legal action can result and guess what, the buck will stop with you.
The role of management is to make a final decision in relation to the employee. Your role is to conduct the investigation ensuring procedural fairness and make findings based on the evidence and on the balance of probabilities.
Expectations around the timelines.
This is an area that I know causes issues and fiction for a lot of HR professionals.
Question: How long will this investigation take?
Answer: How long is a piece of string. Especially at the start of an investigation it is very hard to estimate how long things will take. There are many variables specifically around the availability of the parties and things can change thought out the investigation.
Having said that, with experience you will be able to estimate the time required by considering the complexity of the complaint/s, the number of potential interviewees and other factors known at the start such as employees on leave, shut downs, public holidays etc.
Comment: This investigation is taking to long, you need to get it finished.
Response: It is important that an investigation in conducted in a timely manner, but investigations take time. It is important to conduct the investigation in a fair manner ensuring procedural fairness, but it is equally important to ensure that it does not drag on. But importantly as far as possible you set the timeline.
Conducting the investigation in a timely manner is a skill that comes with training and experience and involves planning and once again having and sticking to a process.
Internal v External
As an internal investigator, managers with expectations may have influence on your career. You may be concerned about pressure to come to a desired outcome. If you are not able or willing to ‘push back’ you may wish to consider engaging an external.
As HR professional acting as an internal investigator you will not doubt have many other responsibilities that make calls on your time. If you can’t devote the time to conduct the investigation in a timely manner again I suggest that you considered engaging an external.
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