No need for Jessica Fletcher or Sherlock Holmes to investigate, here is a no fuss way on how to handle a workplace situation requiring investigation.
So firstly let’s ask what is an investigation? The easiest and most logical explanation is the examination and gathering of factual information that answers a question and solves a problem. This is because a workplace investigation is carried out to learn something and the result is used to either prove or disprove an allegation.
Most organisations have policies and procedures in place to help prevent issues arising and use them as internal controls so to speak. A workplace investigation would help identify the policy and procedure failure therefore allowing the organisation to improve this and help prevent a reoccurrence in the future.
Sooner or later as an employer you will need to investigate one or more of your employees. Many different problems and issues can lead an employer to start an investigation. Some common reasons an employer may start an investigation are:
- Attitude or behavioural problems
- Discrimination or harassment complaints
- Threats of a verbal or physical nature
- Theft or fraud
- OH&S violations
Who conducts a workplace investigation?
Depending on the size of your organisation you may possibly be equipped to run a workplace investigation in house otherwise you may want to outsource this process. The investigator must be knowledgeable about state and federal employment laws, abide confidentiality agreements and privacy rights, must conduct a thorough and timely investigation and be objective and factual based on the evidence provided. An experienced external consultant knows how to ask appropriate questions and draw the most information from witnesses. They will also be able to gauge the accuracy and truth from witnesses without any of the history and relationships that using internal employees may bring to the investigation.
What happens during a workplace investigation?
There are several steps you need to follow to conduct a workplace investigation.
Respond promptly to the claim
Always ensure you respond to claims in a timely manner while witnesses’ memories are still fresh especially if employees are stood down during the process.
Gathering of evidence
During an investigation you are required to gather information and evidence related to the alleged incident or issue. You may need to gather documents such as payroll records, employment contracts, employee file notes, witness statements and other documents depending on the nature of what is being investigated.
If witnesses are involved it is critical to get the exact words used by the witness so take ample notes. Inform the witness the purpose of the investigation and that you will keep their identities confidential if possible. There are times when you must disclose who the witnesses are depending on the situation and what the investigation is about. Advise the witness they are to keep the interview and what is discussed confidential as the complaint procedure is a private matter.
Interview the employee who the allegations have been made against. Allow the employee to give their version of events and point of view. Check if there are any additional witnesses you may not have interviewed or any further evidence.
Evaluation of evidence
Whoever conducts the investigation will examine and evaluate the evidence provided. A decision will then be made based on the proof.
Outcomes and communications
The outcome will depend on the availability of evidence, co-operation of people involved and the seriousness of the allegation and investigation to name a few.
Some possible outcomes of workplace investigations are warnings either verbal or written, suspension, transferring to another area of the organisation, demotion or termination.
Based on the evidence and facts, decide what most likely happened and if disciplinary action is required. Then advise all parties involved that the investigation is complete and the required action has been taken. If the investigator decides no action is required or after reviewing all of the evidence they believe that the incident did not take place, the investigator will report this to all involved.
An employee’s or employer’s complaint that requires a workplace investigation is a big disruption to your organisation. With an immediate and focused investigation you can moderate the loss of time, productivity and employee engagement.
If you need assistance or advice with a workplace investigation or policies and procedures to help prevent a workplace issue warranting an investigation, give HR Gurus a call today.
Written by Resident HR Guru, Natalie Bol