If a complaint has been made about a staff member that relates to misconduct such as bullying or sexual harassment of another employee, it is important to ascertain the facts of the matter to determine whether or not a formal investigation is the most appropriate course of action.
Although not all workplace grievances require a full investigation, employers have a duty to provide their workers with a safe working environment and if they do not take matters of severe misconduct seriously they may open themselves up to legal action or, in some cases, even become criminally liable.
So, once it has been decided that a workplace investigation is necessary, what exactly is involved?
Keeping an unbiased view
Many workplaces will hire a third-party investigator to manage the investigation, which will help to ensure that they are remaining impartial and not taking the side of the accuser/s or the accused.
An employer should seek to engage third party services where possible to maintain procedural fairness and to be certain that a thorough investigation has taken place. The accused employee is also entitled to an unbiased investigation to ensure that any finding made against them was done so impartially.
Without the use of an expert investigator, the employer may become legally liable if the findings were not accurate or if appropriate action was not taken at any stage of the investigation. This can be particularly harmful if the accused has their employment wrongfully terminated.
If an allegation has been made about bullying or sexual harassment, it is even more crucial that the employer maintains sensitivity due to the impacts these types of offences can have on an employee’s health.
Gathering of evidence
After the initial complaint has been made, the employer will usually gather any immediate evidence that has been provided to them or that they have on file, including prior reports, policies and procedures relating to the misconduct and any other emails or documents that may be relevant. This should all be provided to the investigator who may also require further, more specific documentation once they begin their evaluation of the facts.
Evidence will also need to be collected in the form of interviewing witnesses. Witnesses include anyone who is affected by the misconduct personally as well as people who may have been present while the misconduct took place.
Witnesses should be notified of their rights and obligations by becoming involved in the investigation and they should be given adequate notice prior to the interview taking place. It is not unusual for these interviews to be lengthy and to go in to great detail. Support should be offered to witnesses should they require it, including at their interviews.
Analysing the evidence
Once the evidence has been collected by the investigator it will need to be weighed up. It is likely that the perpetrator will deny the allegations, so all evidence needs to be considered to test the validity and credibility of the claims and whether or not it is consistent with the other evidence that has been gathered. Further interviews may need to be conducted to clarify certain events.
Once the investigator is satisfied that they have sufficient evidence they will prepare a report with their findings. The report will conclude whether the behaviour occurred or not and if it did occur, if it was in breach of any policy or law or if it was unreasonable in a workplace setting.
The report will also include recommendations about how the accused should be dealt with, if necessary.
If your organisation needs assistance with a workplace investigation, our HR consultants can help. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.