While they may sound exciting, workplace investigations are usually less satisfying and more tedious than the types of investigations you see in police dramas, but they are just as important.
A workplace investigation should be undertaken whenever allegations of misconduct are raised in the workplace, whether from a manager, a colleague or even a customer of the employee in question. An investigation allows you to discover what really happened and why, so that you may take appropriate disciplinary action.
Below are our top three reminders about conducting workplace investigations:
Investigations should be handled with sensitivity, and this means not disclosing any information about them to third parties such as the remainder of your workforce, or any customers or clients. The process can be embarrassing or awkward for the employee in question, especially if he or she has not engaged in the alleged behaviour, and it would be unprofessional to share it with anyone who doesn’t need to know.
Additionally, consider what information you need to divulge to the parties who are involved in the investigation. While it is necessary to share some details in the interest of eliciting information – for example, you wouldn’t get very far if you said “someone has accused you of doing something on a particular date” – a large amount of information gathered during an investigation should be kept confidential.
On the back of confidentiality comes the second professional responsibility – to be impartial. And what’s more, you should also be perceived to be impartial. If any staff members are involved in the complaint, whether as witnesses, complainants or alleged perpetrators, they should not be permitted to conduct the investigation.
If you only have a small team such that you have no staff members unaffected by the complaint, we recommend you engage an external HR consultancy firm to perform the investigation on your behalf, reassuring your employees that you take impartiality very seriously.
We don’t expect the police to cut corners when investigating crimes, so employers and managers shouldn’t either. Don’t make any conclusions or decisions about the matter until all evidence has been analysed, including speaking to the alleged perpetrator themselves and allowing them to respond to the allegations.
Record all communications, steps taken and findings of fact, as you may need it as evidence of your process later.
An unfair investigation may well lead to an unfair dismissal, and we all know how inconvenient and damaging those claims can be. Workplace investigations are a complex procedure and can be difficult to get right – if you are not comfortable with conducting your own, or would like assistance through the process, we encourage you to seek professional advice to be sure you get it right.
For more information on workplace investigations and what this means for you, clients should contact the HR Assured team. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today for an informal chat.