While they may sound exciting, a workplace investigation is usually less satisfying and more tedious than the types of investigations you’ll watch on a TV police drama, but that doesn’t mean they’re just as important.
A workplace investigation should be undertaken whenever allegations of misconduct are raised in the workplace, regardless of whether the claim is made by a manager, a colleague or even a customer. An investigation allows you to discover what really happened and why so that the most appropriate disciplinary action can be taken.
The following are our top three tips for conducting a workplace investigation:
1. Maintain confidentiality
Investigations should be handled with sensitivity, and this means not disclosing any information to third parties, including but not limited to, the remainder of your workforce, or any customers or clients. The process can be embarrassing or awkward for the employee in question, especially if they have not engaged in the alleged behaviour, and sharing details of the investigation with anyone who doesn’t need to know can be unprofessional.
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” – the majority of information gathered during an investigation should usually be kept confidential.
2. Avoid bias
On the back of confidentiality comes the second professional responsibility – genuinely remaining impartial, but also being perceived to be impartial. If any employees 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 most or all employees have been affected 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 seriously. This is an outsourced service that HR Assured can assist your business with.
3. Be thorough
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 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.
In summary, an unfair investigation may well lead to an unfair dismissal, and we all know how inconvenient and damaging to the business a claim like this 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 you would like assistance through the process, we encourage you to seek professional advice to be sure you get it right.
Have a question about workplace investigations? Contact the HR Assured team.
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