While I hope that you never have to do one, there may come a time where a workplace investigation is needed.
Workplace investigations come about for any number of reasons, though the most common are due to a complaint from a customer/client about a staff member; a complaint from an employee about another employee; or even from a stocktake/audit.
As a manager or business owner, you will need to make the decision as to whether the investigation is handled internally or given to an external investigator.
As every investigation/complaint should be assessed and worked through individually, it is often difficult to know when it should be handled internally, and when it should be given to an external investigator.
Using An External Investigator
When I am talking to clients or students about using an external investigator, I ask them X questions to make a decision.
- Is there a conflict of interest?
This could be that the person doing the investigating is involved in the complaint in some way. It could be that they are a witness to an in/action that forms part of the complaint, they could be the person that the complaint is about, or they could a personal relationship with the complainant or accused.
- Could the complaint be taken further?
Along with the possibility of an unfair dismissal application, if the complaint isn’t resolved satisfactorily, could the complainant take it to an external agency such as the relevant Anti-Discrimination Commission or Administrative Tribunal, Fair Work Commission, or Fair Work Ombudsman
- Does the complaint involve a senior staff member/executive?
- Is the complaint simple or complex in nature?
A complex complaint could be one of long term workplace bullying of multiple staff members.
- Is it beyond the capabilities of the investigator?
- Will the investigator have any problems remaining impartial?
If the investigator isn’t able to remain impartial, then the integrity of the investigative process could be called into question, potentially resulting in additional costs and/or legal action for the company.
If the answer is no to all of those questions, then there is no reason why the workplace investigation couldn’t be handled internally.
Do The Workplace Investigation Yourself.
Aside from the instances above, conducting a workplace investigation internally can be of benefit to the investigative process as the investigator has local knowledge that someone from outside of the business wouldn’t.
We need to remember that the role of the investigator is to gather evidence to either substantiate or not substantiate the complaint. They are not there to pass judgement on the complainant, witnesses or respondent.
As long as you have an investigation plan in place, and follow it, the workplace investigation should be able to be handled internally, and without any incident.
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