A workplace investigation is a formal, structured and unbiased process for gathering evidence and establishing the facts relating to a grievance. The overall aim of which is to help all parties reach the best resolution possible and move forward positively.

Now, this doesn’t sound like something that you, as the investigator, can jump straight into, so you need a workplace investigation plan.

I understand, but I’m very busy. Do I really need a workplace investigation plan?

All employers have a duty of care to investigate any grievance raised. Even with existing work pressures, it’s important to ensure you dedicate the appropriate time to planning and conducting an investigation.

If evidence is gathered poorly or in a way that is perceived as biased, the investigation may have to be repeated resulting in time and cost implications for your business. It could also result in unfair sanctions for an employee(s) leading to a culture of fear and victimisation.

Ultimately, those who feel unfairly treated could bring an employment tribunal – often held in public and in front of the press – which may damage the reputation of your company and brand.

A recent example of a costly tribunal was a Starbucks worker who was accused of falsifying documents when mistakes in her paperwork were simply due to her dyslexia. Another tribunal awarded an 89-year-old woman £200,000 in compensation from the NHS who was fired from her job due to a “catastrophic failure in performance” when she just needed training in how to use a computer.

Both cases could have been resolved at the workplace investigation stage with clear, structured and fair fact-finding.

So, what does a good investigation look like?

A good investigation has a clear scope and, of course, meticulous planning and organisation.

You must be thorough but fair and sensitive in your interviewing, and be scrupulous in your notetaking and recording of the evidence you uncover.

Impartial analysis of the evidence is key and your findings should be clearly presented in a transparent and comprehensive report.

Where do I start in making a plan?

Don’t worry, here’s our step-by-step guide:

  1. Understand the investigation’s scope and terms of reference

Basically, what is being investigated?

  1. Source existing policies and procedures

Check you are following current disciplinary and grievances at work procedures. Make sure your company’s policies align with ACAS guidelines.

  1. Know what additional investigator resources are available

You may wish to seek external support or employment law advice.

  1. Identify who is to be interviewed and schedule interviews

Send invitations to all involved, including witnesses. Think carefully about the order of the interviews and their timings (it’s important to conduct them quickly while events and memories are fresh in people’s heads).

  1. Gather existing evidence

This could be employment records, emails, social media posts, CCTV recordings etc.

  1. Prepare for the interviews

Draft your questions and prepare a script for your introduction, which should explain the process, manage expectations in regards to outcomes and emphasise the impartiality of the process. Also, prepare recording equipment or organise for a notetaker to accompany you.

As well as conducting independent workplace investigations on your behalf, Tell Jane offers a comprehensive training programme aimed at upskilling in-house HR, line managers and leadership teams to carry out fair, inclusive and impartial workplace investigations. To learn more or register your interest, email hello@telljane.co.uk.

Enjoyed this blog? Read more here: 

Your guide to fair workplace investigations

Five top tips for conducting workplace investigations 

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