What do you know about workplace investigations, and could you do one?
Before you break out the magnifying glass, pipe, and deerstalker’s cap, there are a few things you need to know.
To begin with, workplace investigations are something that should be taken seriously. Though that doesn’t mean that every investigation will be an inquisition.
By the same token, it also doesn’t mean everyone can be a ‘workplace investigator’.
Why workplace investigations are performed is the most important part of the process.
They are done to:
- Minimise future risk to the business
- Prevent/reduce the chances of a re-occurrence
- Identify gaps in policy/procedure
Minimise future risk.
By allowing something to continue, whether it be an unsafe work practice, or behaviour, the risk to a business is increased.
If this risk is an unsafe practice, the result could be the death of an employee or visitor. This may then lead to criminal charges against company officials.
If the risk is an employee not following policy or legislation, the risk that a business could be exposed to is just as great. Workplace bulling is an example of one type of behaviour that if alleged, could result in a workplace investigation.
Some incidents are are impossible to predict or prevent. Though if they do happen, things need to be done to stop them happening again.
Ways to prevent/reduce their occurance, could be:
- Termination of the employee
- Retraining of current employees
- Review and rewrite company documents/policy
- Change of workplace practices
Identify gaps in policy/procdure
The investigation, or it’s conclusion, may show where gaps in policy/procedure can be found.
For example, most companies now have a social media policy. Whereas a few years ago, such a policy may not have been thought of.
What To Investigate?
Keeping this article as easy to understand as possible, the rest of it will only refer to ‘simple’ matters. This includes things like policy breaches, minor misconduct, minor bullying allegations.
Allegations that are severe, breach legislation, or pose a risk to health and safety should always be investigated.
Examples of allegations that should be investigated are:
- Minor employee fraud
- Employee misconduct
- Workplace bullying
- Inappropriate behaviour
When To Investigate?
Company policy usually dictates how allegations or complaints are actioned. The policy also indicates when a workplace investigation takes place.
For example, complaints against senior managers or executives may be given greater consideration. This isn’t because they are more important, it is usually that they is a greater risk to the company. We have all read the headlines of CEOs not doing the right thing.
Policy documents may also detail the trigger points for other actions in the case of fraud or theft.
Who Should Do The Investigation?
This is the most contentious part of the whole process.
Who is the person who will do the investigating?
By default, the person is usually the HR Manager or someone from that department.
Yet, they may actually be the worst person for the job.
The safest rule of thumb to go by is. If the end result will be someone losing their job, it is safer to use an external investigator.
This also applies if the allegation involves someone senior to the organisation.
Using an external investigator maintains the integrity of the process, and the result. It can also help prevent any allegations of scapegoating or coverups.
Yes there may be a cost to using an external investigator. Though you also need to think of the cost to the business if your internal investigator gets it wrong.
If this article was TL:DR, the one thing to take away from it is don’t do them yourself. It is always safer for the business to go outside.