Workplace Investigation Series Part 1: Why Investigate?
Workplace grievances and complaints are on the rise and bullying and harassment are common subjects of complaints. The reasons for this are many and varied and not really the subject of this series. However, from experience we know that workplace, personal and family stressors are manifesting as tension and conflict at work, both in the physical workplace and online. An expansion of hybrid work, involving a mix of home based and office based work, has meant big adjustments in relationship dynamics and management styles. This has challenged informal conflict and grievance resolution.
The need for formal workplace investigations is often the result of a breakdown in or failure of management systems, including those informal processes.
Many organisations still do not have adequate policies and procedures to guide and manage behaviours and deal with grievances. This is particularly concerning, given recent changes to legislation, which have created a positive duty on all employers to eliminate sexual harassment, sex based harassment, conduct that subjects a person to a hostile work environment and victimisation.
Investigations become necessary in response to complaints, as well as in other cases of alleged misconduct such as alleged fraud, theft, assault and wilful neglect of duty.
So, what is an investigation?
An investigation is a systematic process of collecting relevant evidence, followed by an assessment of the evidence gathered and a logical and reasonable determination or conclusion.
An investigation is not a trial. The investigator is not a prosecutor or plaintiff but is an impartial fact-gatherer with a duty both to collect the information and to assess it. At the end of the process an investigator must report their findings and possibly make recommendations. They must do this in an independent and objective way.
Facts not in dispute can be accepted at face value. Facts in dispute should be subjected to a constant process of checking, challenging and analysing.
Tip: Plan, Plan, Plan
Planning is essential to ensure that:
· the investigation is carried out methodically and in a professional way,
· resources are used effectively and efficiently,
· additional resources can be made available if needed,
· sources of evidence are not overlooked, and
· opportunities for people to remove, destroy or alter evidence are minimised.
The main planning tool available to an investigator is an investigation plan. An investigator should complete their investigation plan before they conduct any inquiries. This is because the planning process will clarify the approach to be taken – the plan will become the road map for the investigation. It allows the investigator to stay focused on the job and alerts them to any potential problems before they arise.
Part 2 of the series will cover some key investigation process issues.