I’m being bold with my opening statement here: Workplace investigations are a last resort.
Why? Because all other options for resolution should have been exhausted before reaching this point.
It is essential to have an effective grievance policy in place; however, we are perhaps too quick to look to the code of practice for guidance when incidences occur in the workplace.
For the most part, grievances can often be resolved through good management or mediation, as well as investing in preventative methods for toxic workplace behaviour, such as training, an anonymous reporting employee hotline, and cultivating a culture of openness and honesty.
Nonetheless, if you have exhausted all of these options and find yourself at the point of conducting an investigation, here are my five top tips for doing so as efficiently and respectfully as possible.
- Choose the right investigator
It is important to consider who is conducting the investigation in the context of the person accused and the allegation brought against them. For example, it may not be appropriate for a manager to be investigated by someone of the same level of seniority to avoid influences of managerial allegiance.
Similarly, does your organisation have three levels of management to support the escalation of the investigation? That is, the investigation, the hearing and the appeal each need to be conducted by a representative from three tiers of management.
It is integral for grievances to be investigated thoroughly and correctly. It is, therefore, recommended to introduce an external, third party to conduct the investigation; particularly owing to the seriousness of many issues brought forward (after all, all other attempts at resolution have been exhausted) and if the management structure is not in place to escalate the investigation.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare
The investigator must be fully briefed about the allegation brought against an employee. It is essential that they fully understand the nature of the accusation, have reviewed any evidence, and have formulated in-depth and open-ended questions relevant to the case in order to build a comprehensive picture of the situation.
Similarly, prior to the investigation, the accused must receive a copy of the brief and any evidence brought forward, so they have a full understanding of what will be discussed.
- Offer a companion
Unlike a hearing, it is not a statutory requirement to offer a companion during a grievance investigation. However, it is good practice to do so, especially as it lends credibility to the investigation and reassurance that processes are being carried out accurately.
Further, companions offer comfort, giving the person being investigated the confidence to speak freely while also aiding the investigator in asking for clarification for questions and/or answers.
- Be respectful
An investigation is exactly that – an inquiry in order to determine what has occurred. It is not a hearing. Judgment has not been passed.
It can be incredibly damaging to assume guilt, especially if the accused is indeed found innocent post-investigation. It is therefore essential to conduct an investigation with the utmost respect for the dignity of the accused.
The location of the investigation needs to be carefully considered. An on-site, glass-walled meeting room where colleagues (and clients!) are walking past can only fuel the rumour mill; rather, conducting investigations off-site offers a more confidential setting and neutral ground.
Finally, it is important to make the person being investigated feel as comfortable as possible while being interviewed so they can talk freely. This is their opportunity to provide their side of the story. It is not a time for passing judgment, rather it is a time to listen.
I wanted to conclude by offering a quick note about suspension. Suspension is commonplace when a grievance has been brought against an employee and while investigations are underway. However, the employee should not be suspended without pay; they must always receive full pay throughout the process.
Tell Jane’s seasoned HR practitioners are highly skilled and experienced in carrying out grievance investigations. We also offer preventative methods for tackling toxic workplace behaviour and to ensure incidences do not escalate, including training and an anonymous reporting employee hotline.
If you’d like support for an incident that has occurred in your workplace or are interested in tackling toxic behaviour, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.