Top tips for minimising risk when carrying out an investigation – Communication, communication, communication….
18th December, 2023
Workplace complaints, particularly those involving serious allegations of misconduct, bullying and harassment and discrimination can be tricky to investigate; navigating complex issues often in highly emotive circumstances.
Making sure that the investigation is carried out effectively, efficiently, objectively and without causing undue additional aggravation is of the utmost priority.
In this third article in the series Caroline Shafar, Partner in our Employment team and expert investigator outlines all of her top tips so far. These are all really important to bear in mind when organisations are faced with investigating workplace issues…
- It needs to be someone who has had training on how to conduct an investigation
- It needs to be someone who is independent to the issues and more senior than the people involved
- It needs to be someone who has the time to do the investigation. This is crucial and probably the single most important piece of advice.
Put yourself in the shoes of the person making a complaint. You have raised a grievance about being bullied at work. The bullying is making you ill. You are stressed, not sleeping and not eating. An investigator is appointed and they tell you that they have a deadline on a project that they are working on and they will try and fit you in to their diary over the next couple of weeks. The meeting does take place, but 3 weeks later. You have a good meeting and start to feel a bit better in the knowledge that something is happening. But you hear nothing for a couple of weeks. Then when asking for an update, you get an out of office in response; the investigator is now off for two weeks. Meaning two more weeks of uncertainty, two more weeks of stress and two more weeks of inaction.
We see cases like this regularly. Oftentimes they result in employees becoming too unwell to work from the overwhelming stress caused. A potentially avoidable scenario if the investigator is able to act promptly and provide peace of mind by demonstrating that they are treating the complaint seriously and working swiftly to reach a conclusion.
Failing to do so will affect your working relationship and can often lead to an increased risk of dissatisfaction in any outcome, and potential Employment Tribunal claims.
Investigations can be complex; multiple complaints with multiple witnesses often spanning a number of years. The scope of the investigation can also change over time as new allegations are raised. Planning is going to be key to ensuring that the investigation is fair and thorough.
I’d recommend taking the following steps as part of your planning process:
- Step 1 – Make a list of all the allegations that you are investigating. I often put these into a numbered table format. It sounds simple but in a complex case you need to be clear about what it is you are investigating and that you don’t miss anything
- Step 2 – Make a list of the documents that are going to be relevant to the allegations
- Step 3 – Against each allegation, make a list of the witnesses that you think will be helpful to see
- Step 4 – Prepare the questions for each witness before you see them. This will help you ensure that all the issues are covered and will give you structure to the meeting.
Good, thoughtful and meaningful communication is important in any working relationship but especially so when it comes to investigations.
Investigations by their very nature impact on the individuals concerned; whether they are under investigation themselves or if they have raised a grievance about how they are being or have been treated.
In either situation the individual is likely to feel anxious and stressed. It is not uncommon for the individual not to be in work, whether that is because of hybrid working or if they are off sick. This can lead to feelings of being isolated with no visibility over what is happening; whether they are going to face a disciplinary, whether their allegations are even being looked into…
It is therefore crucial that the investigator maintains regular contact with the “accused” and “aggrieved”, updating on the progress of the investigation and likely timeframe for completion. I usually recommend putting a weekly reminder in your diary to send an email out to the individuals concerned with a quick update. This doesn’t need to take more than a couple of minutes to draft but the benefits can be far reaching.
How can we help
At Ward Hadaway we have a team of objective experienced investigators who can provide bespoke, interactive training, to help upskill your team equipping your staff with the tools and knowledge to investigate complaints of any nature.
Our team are also able to carry out investigations on your behalf with the ability to act independently and efficiently to get the bottom of issues without the added emotion or aggravation that can arise when investigating long serving team members or close colleagues. The depth of experienced investigators in our team ensures that we are able to provide someone who can make themselves available to fit in with your timescales.
If you would like to receive more information about training, or if you would like our team to carry out an investigation on your behalf please get in touch with Caroline Shafar or another of our expert investigators.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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