BY SUZANNE ORTON HR Consultant
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Workplace investigations are one of the toughest responsibilities for anyone to manage, but workplace problems do arise and conducting a thorough investigation is a good way to ensure things are dealt with fairly and consistently throughout your organisation – with full visibility of the ‘bigger picture’!

Before jumping in to your fact-finding exercise, I would recommend a few points of consideration first:

  • The person heading up the investigation must not be connected to the circumstances for the investigation in any way;
  • Ensure that your investigation is carried out without any unnecessary delay;
  • Assess whether it is necessary to suspend the employee(s) while the investigation is carried out;
  • Be aware that a reasonable investigation will be essential for a fair dismissal for misconduct.

Step 1: Preparing for the Investigation

Investigation Plan – Consider preparing an Investigation Plan. The plan gives a structured approach and lays out a provisional timeframe.  Of course, the plan may need to flex as the investigation progresses but will provide focus for what facts need to be established and what evidence needs to be collected.

Review Policies & Procedures – Provide the Investigating Officer with copies of any relevant Company policies and procedures, critically the Disciplinary & Grievance Policy. Even if the Investigating Officer is familiar with the policy contents I would recommend they refresh their knowledge to be sure the correct procedures are followed.

Identify Potential Sources of Evidence – Consider any potential evidence sources that are available, this could be CCTV footage, IT records, or witnesses. Now is also a great time to establish if there are any time constraints on collecting the evidence. For example, are any witnesses going away on holiday, is CCTV footage deleted after a certain period of time?  Use this information to plan how you will collect evidence and schedule meetings with witnesses.

Step 2: The Investigation

Investigation Meetings – Are investigation meetings required or is there only physical or written evidence to be collected?  It is likely that investigation meetings will be needed so consider the location of these…  The location should provide privacy and, depending on the nature of the allegations or circumstances, you should make a call on whether these should happen on or offsite. Additionally, make sure that the investigation meeting does not turn into a disciplinary meeting!

Allowing a Companion – Although there is no statutory right to allow the interviewee to be accompanied, in many cases it may benefit the investigation. Check your workplace policy for any detail on this. You may even consider a request for a friend or family member to accompany if this is reasonable in the circumstances.

Recording the Investigation – Generally you have two options here – notes and recordings. If you opt for notes, consider bringing someone in as a note-taker.  This allows the investigator to focus entirely on what is being discussed and they will pick up where further probing or explanation is required much more easily. A recording may be taken if the interviewee gives their permission.  Whilst a recording gives an accurate reflection of what was said, you should bear in mind that the people may feel additional pressure when they are being recorded and may be reluctant to speak openly and freely during the meeting.

Step 3: Gathering Evidence

It is important to gather as much relevant information as practically possible. All evidence should be considered as a whole – what supports the allegations and what contradicts and undermines the allegations? Objectively analyse each piece to establish what it reveals.

A few key questions to consider are:

  • What does the evidence reveal?
  • Are there any doubts over the credibility or reliability of the evidence?
  • Is the evidence supported or contradicted by other evidence?
  • Is any further evidence required?

Step 4: Writing the Investigation Report

Once the facts have been established, an investigation report should follow detailing the findings. The report should cover all the facts that were established and whether there are any mitigating circumstances, along with the Investigating Officer’s conclusions. It is quite usual for advice to be sought from other parties, such as HR, but no one else should influence the contents!

In an ideal world the report would provide absolute certainty on a matter, but in reality this is rarely possible. Therefore, try to arrange the evidence into:

  • Uncontested facts: Where the facts are not in dispute, they can simply be reported as factual.
  • Contested facts: Where the facts are contested or contradictory they should determine what, on the balance of probabilities, took place.
  • Unsubstantiated claims: Where an investigator is unable to substantiate an allegation they should consider if further investigation is reasonable or report that they are unable to draw a conclusion.

Recommendations – Usually recommendations would be included in the investigation report but be careful not to suggest possible sanctions or pre-judge the outcome of any grievance or disciplinary process. As a general rule of thumb the recommendations should be limited to formal action, informal action or no further action.

If you’re going through an investigation (or any associated process) and would like some support, feel free to connect with one of our consultants at info@friarywest.co.uk or on 01621 730 824, we’d love to hear from you.