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Workplace Organisational Investigations – Basic Tips

Updated: Jul 31, 2022

Workplace organisational investigations can often be a difficult and challenging undertaking for businesses.

Investigation Management Software

Applying incorrect or insufficient methods would potentially increase the risk of the employer’s inability to justify disciplinary action that the company would believe to be ‘fair, reasonable and just’, but it also has the potential to have a detrimental impact on the business culture.




Based on 20 years combined experience in undertaking various investigations from within an organisation and on behalf of the public interest, we offer some tips for conducting an organisational workplace investigation.


Keep it simple and clear

It is important to have a clear understanding of the extent of the complaint and the circumstances that surround the event/s. If the scope of the compliant is complex, simplify the facts and control the information at the pace you can receive and analyse. Keeping the facts simple not only makes it easier to understand but allows to you to stay focussed on your objectives and accommodates for any unexpected hurdles you may encounter throughout your investigations.

One way to keep it simple and clear is to establish an investigation plan that stipulates the details of the circumstance, compliant, members involved, supervisors involved, objectives of the investigation, contingencies for unexpected events (i.e. further allegations and counter allegations) and setting timeframes for every task required.


Consider potential risks

Every investigation always comes with risk. Try to determine what steps you can take to minimise the following risk parameters:

  1. Likelihood that the alleged person may interfere with evidence, or possibly intimidate or liaise with witnesses.

  2. Likelihood that the complaint may embellish their version of events or avoid being investigated.

  3. Consideration as to whether or not the alleged person should be suspended from work during the investigation in order to maintain business functions.

  4. Ensure that steps taken as a result of the investigation are consistent with workplace disciplinary policies of the business and legislation.

  5. Consideration of the alleged person and their relationships (personal and professional) with witnesses and supervisors.

  6. Maintaining integrity of evidence such CCTV footage and documents relevant to the investigation through proper handling and storage.

Independent vs. external investigator

There are many pro and cons when using an external or internal investigator. Many factors will influence this decision, including but not limited to:

  1. The complexity of the investigation: are there a number of complaints, are the details likely to be complicated with a number of conflicting stories and allegations, or is it likely that a significant number of people will be involved?

  2. The potential for bias if the investigation is managed internally by the CEO or internal Human Resource member.

  3. Do internal members involved in the investigation have the right level of expertise, experience and capacity to ensure a thorough and detailed investigation?

  4. Do any of the internal members have a close working or personal relationship with the individuals impacted by the allegations?

Be detailed and thorough

As part of the investigation process, ensure that all relevant individuals have been interviewed or spoken to by the investigator. Be detailed, thorough and record all actions taken either by audio, video and written case logs to ensure that not only ‘no stone is left unturned’, but also for fairness as it is likely that the investigator will need to go back to certain individuals to verify and/or seek further comment once additional information comes to light.

  1. Timeliness. Commence the investigation as soon as practicable to avoid any further potential incidents occurring and to ensure the people involved in the investigation can recollect the facts as best as possible.

  2. Fairness. The alleged person and members involved should be given the opportunity to respond to each and every allegation, including when subsequent contradictory evidence may be provided as well as the right to an unbiased decision.

  3. Confidential. Fundamental to the investigation process is ensuring privacy and confidentiality for those involved, and in particular for the complainant(s) and alleged person.

  4. Evidence management. It is imperative to have an appropriate Case Management System (CMS) that is able to record the investigation, add situation reports, request and upload evidence and relevant documents in a safe and secure platform. This will avoid any integrity issues of evidence should the matter is escalated in civil or criminal courts.


Conclusion

Every investigation process should be thorough, timely, confidential, recorded and ensured that all members involved are afforded procedural fairness that they deserve. The best way to approach workplace investigation is to simplify the facts and be clear on your objectives.

It can often result in a time consuming and all-encompassing procedure for those involved but the risks of not following the tips described herein, negate any short term benefits derived from hastily undertaking an investigation.


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