While we know that prevention is better than cure when it comes to tackling workplace grievances, incidences do occur and complaints are made. It is therefore the responsibility of HR or senior leaders to conduct investigations thoroughly and efficiently.
However, workplace investigations are challenging for all involved. A formal grievance is often raised when issues have been overlooked or allowed to go unchecked and therefore have escalated beyond being able to be addressed through informal processes.
So, how do you conduct a grievance investigation?
Tell Jane’s team of seasoned HR practitioners have vast experience in conducting investigations. Here are our top tips to implement in your workplace today:
Plan the investigation
Before conducting an investigation, Tell Jane HR Consultant Liz Jewer recommends preparing a plan to ensure the investigator remains focused on the task in hand:
“The plan will need to be flexible as you cannot predict how things will unfold, but it will give the investigator a framework to follow; including who needs to be interviewed, what evidence should be collected, which policies and procedures to review, timings and locations for the meetings, who is authorising the investigation and, most importantly, terms of reference.”
Promote open discussion
The formal setting of an investigation interview can be intimidating. However, the interview is an opportunity for those involved to express their point of view fully, openly and honestly. Jo-Anne Scott, Tell Jane Consultant & Mediator, suggests explaining the investigation process before the interview to reduce the anxiety of those involved:
“Try to put an interviewee at ease ahead of the investigation by having an informal chat. I usually do this just before the interview to explain the format of the meeting and the reasons for asking or including certain information. This provides a degree of reassurance and helps the person to be more relaxed during the interview.”
As well as understanding the process, it is important to be transparent with all involved in the investigation (including witnesses) about how their comments and responses will be recorded and used.
Tell Jane HR Consultant Paula Mitchell recommends “making sure that interviewees know that their involvement in the investigation means the individuals concerned may see the statements and that their input could impact future stages of the process and the decisions made”.
Ask the right questions
Asking the right questions during an interview is essential for extracting and gathering robust evidence and information about the grievance. “Avoid asking leading questions,” explains Tell Jane Director Lisa Bell. “Questions must be impartial and untainted by opinion or preconceptions – this is a fact-finding mission. Plus, you risk the interviewee feeling victimised or unfairly treated by the process if they perceive the interviewer is not a neutral party”.
Lisa further suggests concluding the interview “by asking the interviewee whether they are happy with how the interview has been conducted and ensure that their response is documented in the minutes. This not only provides the interviewee with a chance to provide further information, but also to raise any concerns about the process that can be addressed immediately”.
Keep to the facts
Collecting evidence is the sole objective of the investigation process. The evidence you collect will then inform your findings so it is essential that the evidence and the findings are compatible. As Tell Jane D&I Consultant Josh Karl suggests:
“You must ensure that there is a strong connection between your key findings and the evidence in front of you. Explain why one or more pieces of evidence have led you to make those findings. If you cannot build a bridge between your findings and the evidence, then you are more than likely giving weight to opinion or instinct.”
But what happens if you’re in a situation where it is one person’s word against another? “Never assume that if you are faced with one word against another, you cannot make a finding,” explains Josh. “Consider similar evidence when drawing your conclusions and remember, your job is not to establish the facts beyond reasonable doubt. You only need to be satisfied that the evidence stacks up on the balance of probabilities. What this means in practise is that you are satisfied it is more likely than not that the allegations are true.”
Do you need support conducting a workplace investigation? At Tell Jane, we can conduct workplace investigations on your behalf as well as mediation to prevent issues from escalating. We also provide training to upskill in-house HR and leadership teams. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org to discover more.
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