The conduct of investigations in the workplace is now common practice. Within the Human Resource (HR) space, they generally occur when an employee has allegedly breached organizational policy or acted inappropriately or illegally.
Such examples may include allegations of bullying, harassment, damage or misuse of company property, theft or fraud.
For allegations that do warrant investigation, an investigator is appointed to establish the facts of the matter, prove or disprove the alleged behaviour and identify any mitigating circumstances relevant.
I have been fortunate to have worked with numerous organisations and individuals and often identify common shortfalls within investigative processes. Let me share some key points to improve the quality of your future investigations.
- Always determine the nature of the investigation and the relevant policies or regulations you are investigating against.
- Ensure you have established a ‘terms of reference’ to give the investigation clear direction, focus and boundaries.
- Identify elements of proof required to substantiate (or not) the allegation.
- Have a plan of action that ensures the investigation is completed timely and remains confidential.
- If applicable, ensure you visit the site of the incident to obtain physical evidence and/or to get an appreciation of the environment.
- Interview ALL available witnesses to ensure you gather their account of what happened. As discussed in my previous article, interviewing is key to the outcome of the investigation.
- Obtain any other corroboratory documentary evidence.
- Towards the end of the investigation, interview the alleged employee (respondent) to provide them with the opportunity to give their account of the incident, provide an explanation for their behaviour or refute the allegation.
- Ensure you have a complete record of the investigation, documenting every step, including all actions taken, interviews and decisions made during the course of the investigation.
- Apply the appropriate standard of proof. In most disciplinary investigations, allegations must be proved “on the balance of probabilities”. Be aware that it is possible that Fair Work Australia or a tribunal or court may find any subsequent disciplinary action or dismissal unjust or unreasonable and can therefore result in payment of compensation or damages.
- Prepare an investigative report that presents an accurate account of the findings and a recommendation of the outcome.
Conducting an investigation is a process. Having a systematic approach and an understanding of your requirements whilst carrying out these functions will ensure investigative success.
(By Oscar Persichitti)
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