What are the steps in workplace investigations?

workplace investigation

The place of investigation in the workplace is to ensure that issues are handled harmoniously and the best decisions are taken for both the company and employees’ interests. However, if conducted wrongly, it will only expose the company to legal squabbles and make employees distrust the investigation process.

Whether it is a case of bullying, sexual harassment, or theft; there are laid down steps that guarantee the success of a workplace investigation. As an employee, you should be familiar with these phases to determine whether or not your employer is following due process.

Are you under investigation at the workplace? Do you want to understand the steps in a workplace investigation? Keep reading to figure out all about investigation and the steps to take while undertaking it in the workplace.

Workplace investigation: A Highlight

A workplace investigation happens when it is imperative to figure out what truly happened in a case of a misdemeanour or serious misconduct. Simply put, it is a fact-finding process to identify the factual account of such an occurrence within the company.

A workplace investigation is important because it helps reassure staff that the company is unbiased and intent on making the workplace conducive for all. It also helps eliminate any fear of favoritism among employees. Another essential advantage of a workplace investigation is that it gives room for procedural fairness; this will mitigate indiscriminate termination and cases of unfair dismissal.

Workplace investigation can be conducted directly by the employer or the Human Resources department. Depending on the severity of the case, a private investigator might be hired to dig up the truth. This process is usually kept confidential to protect both the complaint and prevent tampering with key pieces of evidence.

While carrying out a workplace investigation, employees’ privacy should be protected and the processes for such procedures should be enshrined in the Employee Handbook. This will also spell out whether an employee can hire a legal representative to guide them through the process. As much as revealing the truth is the main objective; preventing a possible lawsuit is another factor employers should bear in mind while handling a workplace investigation.

workplace investigations and how to conduct them

Key Steps while conducting Workplace Investigation

To ensure the rights of the employees are protected while still being investigated, there is a need to follow key steps. They include:

  • Know when to investigate

An investigation is only necessary if it is a clear case of the allegation.  If both parties agree on an account of the situation; then it is useless to pursue an investigation. An investigation should also happen when you have informed the employee about their misconduct and offered means of resolving it.

  • Act quickly

All cases involving an investigation in the workplace should take place immediately without delay. This is to ensure that other employees would trust in the company’s ability to handle issues. Delaying an investigation process might turn detrimental if it results in constructive dismissal, hence it should not be delayed.

  • Have an investigation plan

Even though it is appropriate to act quickly, it is even more impressive to have a ready-made plan on how the investigation plan will go.  This will involve knowing the duration, method, and personnel needed to achieve the desired result. Having a plan will also help the company stay out of legal murky waters.

  • Use the right channels

The employee handbook provides a guideline for workplace investigation and stipulates who should conduct it. All disciplinary cases should either be handled by the employer or the human resource department. In severe cases, an independent investigator might be involved to avoid bias or resentment after the process.

  • Conduct interviews

An investigation should involve interviews. Interviewing the complaint and defendant will give room to hear the different sides of their stories and provide ample opportunities to discover discrepancies in the story. It is also an excellent time to judge their body language and cross-examine them in the quest for the truth.

  • Peruse through the evidence:

Whatever evidence is available in a case should be studied and analyzed carefully. Whether it is material shreds of evidence like paperwork, video footage, employee’s attendance log book, or phone records. It might also involve inviting primary and secondary witnesses to give their accounts of the story. Every ahead of evidence should be evaluated and used to solve the puzzle.

  • Keep it confidential

The hallmark of a successful workplace investigation is secrecy. All parties involved should be reminded of the confidentiality of such a process. This is to ensure that evidence is not tampered with or that witnesses are being unduly influenced. Confidentiality in workplace grievances encourages other employees to trust the company’s ability to handle complaints.

  • Document the investigation process

All the processes of a workplace investigation should be documented. This will be useful if there is a future legal tussle on the issue. Employees should ensure they go with a support person or legal representative to meetings. They should also have a folder to keep accurate documents regarding the case. In the case of unfair dismissal, such information will come in handy.

  • Reach a decision

After evaluating the evidence, the next step will be to find a missing link to the whole situation. Proper analysis of employee interviews and evidence will reveal the truth of a matter. It is now time to decide on the case. Whatever decision is reached should match the offense and be devoid of malicious intent on the employer’s part.

  • Follow up

Not all workplace investigation ends up in a termination. An employee can be let off with a warning. After the investigation, it is important to follow up with the employee to monitor their attitude and performance. If an employee was investigated for sexual harassment, the company can install CCTV around the office to capture a repeat. Following up with an employee might mean offering them a training program, teaching them a skill, or awarding them in-house therapy sessions. 

How to Ensure your Workplace Investigation is successful.

  • Be unbiased. This is not a time to play the game of favourites. Be eager to study the evidence and expose the culprit.
  • Prescribe an adequate solution at the end. If you need to terminate the employee’s contract to work or demote them, do so without compromising.
  • Stay on course within the investigation. Don’t use this opportunity to witch-hunt an employee or turn it into a revenge game.
  • Use an outside investigator if you are sceptical about an in-house investigator.
  • Isolate both parties during the investigation, if the need arise.
thinking about a workplace investigation and steps involved

Wrapping up

Workplace investigations are inevitable; especially when employers want to dig up factual accounts of a situation or address a case of serious misconduct among the employees. Whatever the reasons, there are steps to be taken while investigating an employee at work.

When employers neglect procedural fairness in their investigations; it paves way for disgruntlement and a possible case of unfair or constructive dismissal. As an employee, the onus lies on you to discover the phases of a workplace investigation and note if your employer is being unfair, harsh, or unreasonable.

If you are currently under investigation at the workplace and need help comprehending the process; A Whole New Approach (AWNA) is your safest bet. With years of experience as workplace advisors, we can help you evaluate your situation and guide you through the process. If you are also seeking to lodge a case of unfair dismissal, we can represent you and get you the justice you deserve. Enjoy a free consultation when you speak to any of our team today on 1300 766 700. We work in all states, NSW, Qld, Victoria, Tas, SA, WA, and NT.