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What are workplace investigations?
Workplace problems take many forms. They can range from grievances, dishonesty, poor performance and inappropriate behaviour, including violence, bullying, harassment or discrimination. Workplace problems can embrace potentially criminal acts.
The purpose of a workplace investigation is to enable an employer to understand the full facts of a matter or incident and to allow fair, objective and informed decision-making to bring the matter to a conclusion.
When things go wrong in the workplace how does your organisation respond?
The first few hours and days in any serious workplace investigation can be emotional and confusing for those involved. Clear heads and good processes are essential for those who are required to take appropriate action to resolve the problems.
Some problems are straightforward and simple to resolve; others can be hugely complex, serious and wide-ranging, possibly involving numerous employees. A good employer will seek to address these issues promptly, thoroughly and fairly to resolve the problems and to maintain good workplace relations.
Many such problems should and can be resolved informally by early intervention and good management. However, in complex situations or where informal steps don’t work, sooner or later any significant problem at work will need to be investigated.
And that’s where employers can run into difficulties. These can be caused by a lack of investigation capacity, poorly trained investigators, inadequate or cumbersome processes and lack of clarity about what an investigation is meant achieve.
At times like this, it’s important for employers to remember what your responsibilities are, and to be clear about your approach to investigations. The first step is to understand the purpose of an investigation.
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Why does the investigation process matter?
An employer is obliged, in conducting a workplace investigation, to ensure that it is fair and confidential, that any relevant internal policies are followed, that as much evidence and information is gathered as possible to support informed decision-making, and that the process is not designed to prove guilt but to establish full facts.
Those conducting the investigation should not, normally, be responsible for making the final decisions on the outcomes and subsequent actions by the employer.
Failure to investigate properly can prejudice the fair handling of workplace problems. A poor investigation can lead to bad decisions that may be criticised in an Employment Tribunal in the event of a claim. These claims can cover unlawful dismissal, discrimination, detriment against whistleblowers, breaches of data protection rights and many other issues.
Losing an Employment Tribunal can be very costly for an employer, not just in financial terms through the award of compensation, but in damage to organisational reputation. Not to mention the considerable management costs involved in preparing for a tribunal, engaging lawyers and producing documents and evidence for consideration.
Avoiding costs and criticism should not, however, be the only reasons for handling workplace investigations correctly. Consistent and fair treatment of employees involved in investigations is important in promoting positive workforce relations.
What does a workplace investigation involve?
Comprehensive guidance is available from the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) on how to conduct effective workplace investigations. The guidance shows the key phases involved:
- Organisational preparation
- The investigator’s preparation
- Handling investigation meetings
- Gathering evidence
- Report writing and recommendations
Following this guidance will help an employer deliver a good investigation. There is a lot here for employers to manage, and we know that some organisations deal with investigations infrequently. Many don’t have the time or trained resources to do them well.
How do you get the right support?
If your organisation needs to conduct an investigation and you are concerned about how to go about it, Verita is here to help. We have more than 20 years’ experience in handling complex workplace investigations, many of which have been in the public eye. We have a proven approach to the investigative process, and we have significant range and depth of resources to help your organisation manage any investigation.
If you choose Verita to conduct an investigation for you, we will ensure it fits appropriately into your existing HR policies and that it is conducted independently, impartially and fairly. A Verita independent investigation will gather the facts and assemble the evidence in a case, but will, of course, leave the decision-making to your management.
We can deploy our people quickly to your investigation who have extensive senior management, legal and human resources experience. And our investigators are rigorously trained using a consistent approach to the investigation process.
Our team can help you manage the whole process of a workplace investigation…from agreeing the wording of the allegations or charges in disciplinary cases, through setting the best terms of reference for the investigation to providing a comprehensive report that sets out evidence, findings, conclusions and recommendations, if appropriate.
The Verita Approach To Independent Workplace Investigations
For any investigation Verita will follow the same key steps below to ensure we take a comprehensive, consistent and managed approach to delivering the best outputs for our clients.
- Clarify the scope and terms of reference
- Select the investigation team (or solo investigator)
- Gather, record and evaluate the evidence
- Make findings and draw conclusions
- Make recommendations (if required)
- Report the outcomes
David Scott is Verita’s associate director and HR expert, specialising in people and the workplace. He is an experienced human resources director, having worked at Board/Executive level for more than 20 years, including senior positions at British Telecommunications plc, HM Prison Service and United Utilities plc.
David has been interim HR director of First Group, the Strategic Rail Authority and was interim Director of Workforce and Strategic HR at Kent and Medway Strategic Health Authority from 2004-2005.