Investigations form the focal point for many different types of HR situation including grievances, disciplinary action, capability issues and dismissals. Having a solid investigation process can help to ensure that any later decisions are deemed as fair and not prejudged.
An investigation is a fact-finding exercise to collect all the relevant information on a matter. A properly conducted investigation can enable an employer to fully consider the matter and then make an informed decision on it. Making a decision without completing a reasonable investigation can make any subsequent decisions or actions unfair and leave an employer vulnerable to legal action.
Where an employee raises a grievance, they want to feel that their complaint has been fully understood and investigated. This will leave no doubt that any response the employee receives is based on a factual investigation and not on a ‘hunch’ or the opinion of the person listening to or investigation the grievance.
In cases of disciplinary it is essential that a solid investigation has been completed, especially if the allegation against the individual could be deemed as Gross Misconduct and could lead to dismissal. If an employee was to be dismissed and they decided to claim through a tribunal, the tribunal would be looking for a thorough investigation to have been completed prior to the dismissal taking place. Where the employee brings any further evidence to be considered, this will also need to be evidenced as being fully investigated.
What does conducting a workplace investigation look like to you? We’ve put together some steps below to help guide you through the process.
Decide if an investigation is necessary, issues occur in every workplace all of the time, an employer should decide whether a quiet chat or informal action may resolve a matter without undue process.
Other considerations that employers should think about when deciding whether an investigation is necessary are:
- Do any of our policies or procedures obligate us to carry out a formal investigation?
- Will an initial investigation help us to identify whether a full investigation is appropriate?
- Is it possible that the outcome of an investigation will warrant further action?
An employer should then consider exactly what is being investigated and create a terms of reference that explains what the investigators role and responsibilities are for the investigation.
When choosing an investigator, this will vary depending on the situation. In a disciplinary matter, a different person should handle each stage of the process, where possible. Where a grievance has been raised, it is fine for the roles of investigator and decision maker to be conducted by the same person.
An investigator’s preparation
When it has been decided that an investigation needs to take place, the employer should create an investigation plan to provide the investigator with a structure to work from. The plan should identify:
- Who might need to be called to an investigation meeting.
- What evidence might need to be gathered – and how to get it.
- A provisional time-frame for when the investigation should be completed.
Holding an investigation meeting
An investigation meeting is where the investigator has the opportunity to interview someone who is involved in, or has information on, the matter in question.
- Employers should establish who can accompany employees at the meeting e.g. a colleague or trade union rep, a personal friend etc.
- Plan what questions need to be asked, pre-planning the initial questions will help alleviate any unnecessary stress and help keep the interview on track.
- Interview the parties involved and any relevant witnesses.
An investigator should gather the evidence and establish the facts of the matter. They should adopt a holistic approach and consider both evidence that supports the allegations and evidence which undermines the allegations.
- Arrange and agree witness statements.
- Collect any relevant written records and documents e.g. timesheets, appraisals.
- Collect any relevant and appropriate physical evidence e.g. CCTV, call recordings.
Writing an investigation report
Remember who your audience is when writing a report, once completed, the employee who raised a grievance or the employee who is being investigated will read it. Therefore, an objective writing style is optimal, stick to the facts and include all of the evidence collected.
- Plan the structure of the report – ensure that all issues raised in the terms of reference are covered.
- Report what is likely to have happened – the balance of probabilities.
- Make recommendations as required – an investigator should not suggest a possible sanction or prejudge what the outcome to a grievance or disciplinary hearing will be, instead suggest whether any further action is necessary.
After an investigation is completed
- Submit the report and conclude the investigator role.
- Retain the report for an appropriate period of time – retain investigation reports for a period of time and keep the report securely stored and restrict access only to those individuals who need it.
- Ensure any recommendations unrelated to the matter are considered.
If you would like further guidance through the investigations process, call one of our consultants today.