How to navigate a workplace investigation

A workplace investigation is the process of examining a workplace incident that is fair, systematic and impartial.

The term workplace investigation can cause feelings of overwhelm, stress and inexperience for managers. Workplace investigations can be required to resolve issues such as bullying and harassment, violation of policies, discrimination, and unethical behaviour. If serious workplace disputes and misconduct are ineffectively managed or ignored, they can exacerbate issues in the workplace.  In this blog post we explore what a workplace investigation is, when it is needed and how to conduct one.

What is a workplace investigation?

A workplace investigation is the process of examining a workplace incident that is fair, systematic and impartial. Facts and evidence are gathered from multiple parties and used to determine if a particular grievance or misconduct occurred. 

When is a workplace investigation needed?

Workplace misconduct can be dealt with in an informal or formal manner. For less serious matters such as interpersonal conflict or small procedural issues a supervisor could manage and resolve these matters by informally discussing the issue with the parties involved.

A workplace investigation is warranted when significant breaches of workplace policy and/or unlawful behaviour such as harassment or theft have occurred. These are serious allegations, which can be complicated and unpleasant to manage, often resulting in serious implications.

How to conduct a workplace investigation

Workplace misconduct and grievances can be highly sensitive and serious matters, at times resulting in legal action. This is why it is imperative confidentiality and impartiality are upheld by everyone involved throughout the investigation. There are several people involved in a workplace investigation including:

  • Investigator – impartial professional such as a representative from human resources, a legal practitioner, or an independent investigator.
  • Complainant – the person who made the complaint.
  • Respondent – the person who the complaint is against.
  • Witness – a person or people who observed the misconduct.

To conduct a thorough and effective workplace investigation, the following steps should be followed:

  • Plan and scope the investigation.
  • Gather information, including interviewing relevant parties and obtaining evidence such as emails, paperwork, phone logs, receipts etc.
  • Review and assess information and evidence and if necessary complete further examination.
  • Allow the complainant and respondent to consider and comment on the evidence provided.
  • Final analysis of all information and conclusion drawn.
  • Investigation report written and outcome of the investigation is communicated to involved parties.

Investigation outcome

The investigator will provide an appropriate course of action based on their findings. The outcome from an investigation can include informal action such as mediation, counselling, staff training or a warning; or formal action, including legal consequences or dismissal. No action can also be taken, which happens in the event there is not enough evidence to support the allegation.

If there is any question about the ability for an investigation to be completed confidentially, fairly and without bias; a third-party investigator should be appointed.

Misconduct and grievances in the workplace can be serious issues that need to be managed correctly to avoid implications in the future. If you are experiencing such issues in your business you can count on HRTAS to conduct effective and discreet workplace investigations and recommend an appropriate course of action to resolve them. Contact Eve on 0401 785 529 or email eve@hrtas.com

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