More than ever, organisations are aware of the need for a thorough investigation of workplace issues. This awareness stems from a greater understanding of the relevant legal obligations and genuine desire to comply with regulations and policies.
Gathering sufficient and necessary evidence to determine what happened in your workplace will provide the best opportunity to take appropriate action to address it. Here are six critical (though not exhaustive) facets of every successful workplace investigation.
1. Triage the issue
Start your investigation with an immediate and thorough triage process. This should be conducted by a nominated officer who knows how to conduct a workplace investigation and can determine the appropriate next steps to address any workplace issue.
The triage process includes:
- addressing imminent risks to health, safety or security
- notifying necessary authorities
- reviewing compliance to organisational policy
2. Appoint an Independent Investigator
Appointing a third-party, external investigator is considered best practice in investigations relating to allegations which, if proven, would constitute a breach of organisational policy resulting in disciplinary action or termination of employment. The appointment of an external investigator is a must when the complaint is made against a senior leader in the organisation.
Appointing an independent investigator helps you to:
- build trust with your employees
- increase the likelihood of the outcome being accepted by involved parties
- decrease your organisation’s risk in the event of legal challenge or scrutiny
3. Plan the Investigation
Begin your investigation with the end in mind by writing an investigation plan:
- start with the disclosure, the relevant regulations and your organisation’s policies relevant to the issue
- determine the questions you need answers to. For example, “Did this person breach this policy by X?”
- identify all interviewees, including the complainant, the respondent and witnesses to any significant incidents
- communicate this information and the goals of the investigation clearly to the appointed investigator
4. Clear, Professional, Timely & Confidential Communication
Clear, regular and timely communication is critical for any workplace investigation. We recommend that you:
- Make sure all the salient points are confirmed in writing
- Confirm the process, each person’s rights and responsibilities
- Keep the complainant and respondent up to date on the progress of the investigation and explain any significant delays so they aren’t left wondering what is happening. Document all of this communication in case it is needed in the future
- Maintain a neutral demeanour while speaking to witnesses and conducting interviews, as studies show even slight changes to the tone of a question can affect a witness’s answer
5. Protect Privacy
It is essential that privacy and confidentiality are maintained by all parties from the moment the initial complaint is received, throughout the investigation and finally, responding to its findings.
- people are informed of the issue strictly on a need-to-know basis
- specifically, no one is informed other than as reasonably necessary and as permitted by law
- the need to protect privacy is clearly explained to all interviewees
- non-Disclosure Agreements are to be signed by all parties
6. Give Procedural Fairness
Given the gravity of the potential outcomes for all parties, it’s critical that the investigation is conducted justly and appropriately. A workplace investigation interview is not an interrogation, and demonstrable procedural fairness limits your organisation’s risk should the matter be subject to litigation in the future.
Procedural fairness means:
- people making decisions act promptly, thoroughly and with impartiality
- the respondent is afforded a fair opportunity to read and prepare to respond to all allegations made against them before their interview
- interviews are audio or video-recorded, and transcribed
- draft written statements are prepared for interviewees to review, edit and sign as confirmation that the information provided is true and correct to their best of their knowledge
- the recording and transcript provide proof of how the interview was conducted and the initial information provided, if it differs significantly from the final signed statement
- statements, correspondence, documentary evidence gathered during the investigation, the investigation report and details of all actions taken thereafter are stored in one secure location, for ease of reference should the matter be reopened or relevant to another issue in the future.
Use these tips to guide your next workplace investigation.
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