Workplace Investigations: A Step-by-Step Guide | performHR

Perhaps you’re faced with the prospect of conducting a workplace investigation for the first time, or you want to check that you’re following the right process. Either way, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we set out the essential steps for a successful workplace investigation process and where to find support should you need it in Australia.

Steps in the workplace investigation process

If a conflict or allegation has been raised, it’s vital that you respond promptly. The more serious the complaint, the more important it will be that you carry out an accurate and objective investigation. These broad steps below are all central to an impartial, fair and transparent process.

1. Decide whether to investigate

Step one is to assess the situation and determine whether it warrants a workplace investigation. While a small conflict may be resolvable through an alternative solution such as mediation, serious complaints such as discrimination, harassment, fraud or misconduct should be addressed with care and due process through the investigation process.

A workplace investigation will help to collect evidence about what has or hasn’t happened, and can also protect the business against unfair dismissal claims further down the path. Even if a case of employee misconduct initially seems cut and dry, an investigation will help to iron out exactly what ocurred and give respondents a chance to each tell their side.

Certain serious incidents may require instant reporting to the police or to WorkSafe for a Fair Work investigation. Staff members accused of serious matters should be removed from contact with the alleged victim or victims, and in some cases this may involve those staff members being temporarily stood down.

2. Prepare for the investigation

If you decide or are advised that a workplace investigation is the right step forward, it’s then time to plan how you will carry this out. Consider:

  • Who will be carrying out the investigation
    Appointing a professional workplace investigator helps to ensure the process is carried out with legal accuracy and complete objectivity.
  • How large the investigation will be
    Do you get a sense that the workplace culture needs to change generally, or did the incident involve a specific group of employees?

When appointing a decision maker, consider whether they will be able to objectively:

  • Notify people of the allegations against them
  • Give respondents the appropriate time and opportunity to be heard
  • Make decisions without bias and without a personal interest in the outcome, and
  • Act only on the evidence uncovered.

It can be a wise move to obtain legal advice as you prepare for your workplace investigation, as every organisation and its policies are different. While all organisations must adhere to Australian workplace law, any alleged breaches of company policy will depend on what those unique policies actually are.

3. Notify all participants

The next step will be to notify all relevant parties that an investigation is to be conducted, including the accused employee and any witnesses. The accused employee or employees should receive written details of the allegations, and be provided sufficient time and opportunity to respond to those allegations.

It’s important to consider how best to minimise any further repercussions in the leadup to a workplace investigation. The safety and wellbeing of all parties should be prioritised, and notifications should be limited to only those who are involved. It’s also essential to maintain employee privacy throughout the entire process and, if you have a non-retaliation policy in place, make it clear that any breaches of this should be immediately reported.

4. Conduct the investigation

The workplace investigation process will involve reviewing evidence from all parties and objectively considering that evidence, which could range from company emails to medical reports, to descriptions from witnesses.

A workplace investigation can be a tense and challenging time. If you are holding interviews, make it clear the accused employee or employees can bring a support person with them. It can be a wise step to conduct an interview with the accused person after you’ve conducted interviews with other parties, so that you can gain a broader picture of the alleged events. During workplace investigations and interviews, employee rights still apply and everyone should be reminded that privacy and confidentiality are paramount.

5. Formalise the report and notify parties

Once a decision has been made, it’s then time to formally notify all relevant parties of the workplace investigation outcomes. This might include issuing a warning, requiring further training, requiring a written apology, requiring no action or potentially termination, if there has been a very serious case of misconduct.

It’s also vital to consider any final reports and use this to address any wider issues within the organisation if these are present. At performHR we provide a concise report at the end of every workplace investigation. This highlights any broader recommendations that may help to avoid issues in the future and improve workplace culture.

Find support for your workplace investigation

An accurate workplace investigation can address problems quickly, limit legal fallout and encourage employee trust in your organisation’s leadership. We know it can be difficult to know where to begin with a workplace investigation, and our expert teams of HR and Employment Relations specialists are available to help in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Newcastle and Parramatta. Contact us today for capable, compliant and balanced workplace investigation support.

“A workplace investigation will help to collect evidence about what has or hasn’t happened, and can also protect the business against unfair dismissal claims further down the path”

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