Knowing how to conduct a fair workplace investigation is an important tool for any employer. Without the knowledge, the business may fail to conduct the investigation fairly and may end up being legally implicated.
Getting on the front foot and implementing a grievance policy that includes the provision of an investigation is the key to mitigating damage in the instance that one employee accuses another employee of misconduct.
Even if your workplace has a terrific culture, here is what you should know about conducting a fair workplace investigation and how to formalise best practice.
From a legal perspective
A failure to undertake a fair and thorough workplace investigation can have consequences for an employer, including the risk of litigation, so when conducting a workplace investigation, employers should be mindful of the legal considerations. These include maintaining employee confidentiality for all parties involved, providing all parties with equitable opportunities to share their side of the story, and ensuring the workplace investigation is acted upon in a timely manner by an appropriately qualified person in order to gain the most accurate information. This can sometimes mean having to engage the services of a neutral third-party organisation or person that specialises in workplace investigations.
Importantly, an employer must never accuse or sanction an employee of the misconduct outlined in the complaint until a thorough investigation has been undertaken. A wrongful accusation could expose the employer to the risk of litigation.
From an employee perspective
The complainant may already be experiencing bullying or harassment in the workplace, so it is crucial that the employer ensures they are providing a safe and healthy working environment to all employees.
An employer should ensure it has measures in place to prevent the victimisation of the complainant and other investigation participants.
Mistakes to avoid when conducting a workplace investigation
The biggest mistake an employer can make is failing to conduct a workplace investigation at all. If an employee makes a complaint of misconduct against another employee it should be investigated swiftly, thoroughly and confidentially.
Another mistake employers make is investigating similar complaints inconsistently, which is why it is important that a formal workplace policy is implemented.
Investigators should remain impartial and should not be seen to be favouring or supporting one person over another party to the investigation. It would also be a mistake to lead one party to believe their employment is at risk of termination if they do not cooperate with the investigation or use any other intimidation tactics during the course of the investigation.
Undertaking a fair workplace investigation can be challenging but implementing policies and procedures, understanding the employers’ legal obligations to the parties to the investigation and understanding when it might be time to bring in a neutral, trained third-party investigator can all help to ensure the organisation mitigates the risk of litigation.
If you need assistance with conducting a workplace investigation within your company, please contact our experienced HR Consultant on (07) 4052 0762.