Bullying, discrimination, harassment and allegations of misconduct; all things you don’t necessarily expect to hear about on a Tuesday morning. Nobody looks forward to a situation where a serious allegation is made in the workplace and it may come as quite a shock, but if this does happen your next steps will matter a great deal. A thorough, impartial workplace investigation is the only appropriate response, and will allow you to address the genuine issue at the heart of the matter. To ensure your investigation is fair, accurate and will stand up to scrutiny at every stage, it’s important to follow these best practice tips.
Understand the costs of a poorly handled workplace investigation
A bungled workplace investigation can leave a true trail of destruction, including distressed employees, unresolved issues, a general sense of distrust and of course, the risk of legal action. There’s a long list of Australian case law where internal investigations have been found to be one-sided, delayed or unfair, which in some cases has led to the reinstatement or reimbursement of the employee. And that type of figure doesn’t even factor in the bad press and public perception an outcome like this can cause.
Consider confidentiality and impartiality
Workplace investigation confidentiality and impartiality is absolutely critical, but it can be surprisingly hard to achieve with an internal investigation. No matter how impartial they might feel, HR staff have relationships and experiences with others in the office which can play a role in an investigation – even on a subconscious level. And even if an employee doesn’t have a direct role in the allegations, they may feel anxious about being asked to make a statement and feel like they’re taking sides. Having an impartial party conduct your workplace investigation can all make the difference between a resolved matter and a workplace culture that becomes less than healthy.
Follow a set, thorough investigation process
The process your workplace investigation follows is critical to creating a detailed, accurate and auditable paper trail of what has happened and how the matter was resolved. This includes:
- Agreeing on the scope of the workplace investigation
- Interviewing the complainant in detail initially
- Drafting allegations
- Informing the respondent about the allegations and subsequent investigation
- Interview any witnesses for a detailed account
- Consider the evidence, or have an impartial investigator do the same
- Inform the respondent officially of any evidence you’ve identified, and provide them with the opportunity to respond, and finally
- Inform the respondent officially of any final findings.
Communicate with all parties
A workplace investigation should be carried out promptly after an allegation is made, and the process should be clearly communicated to the complainant, respondent and all relevant parties. When working with an outsourced workplace investigator such as PerformHR, we’ll request all relevant documentation such as policies, emails and any physical evidence. We then apply our knowledge of workplace policies and procedures to the process listed above. We can also provide options for complex situations such as a respondent disappearing on sick leave or multiple complaints from one staff member, applying the respect and diligence these situations can require to find the right resolution.
Use the experience to actively improve your workplace
While a workplace investigation isn’t always a pleasant experience, it can be a productive one. When PerformHR conducts a workplace investigation we include not only a comprehensive investigation report, but also an optional report with impartial observations on what may have led to the complaint in the first place. You’ll be equipped with practical next steps on how to address operational, cultural or human resource issues.
A best practice workplace investigation will be prompt, clear, and handled with impartiality, patience, perseverance and excellent communication skills. If you’d like to speak with PerformHR about a current allegation or simply to have us on speed dial in case an issue arises, contact our team in Sydney or in your local area around Australia.