Tackling workplace investigations is an essential skill for managers. If you’re dealing with a conduct matter (i.e. where an employee won’t meet your reasonable management standards) you are expected to carry out an investigation to establish the facts.
If the facts suggest that there is a case to answer, you can then arrange for it to be explored formally in a formal disciplinary meeting. Just a note on the ‘facts’. Managers often talk very vaguely about ‘bad attitude’, ‘poor performance’ and so forth.
You couldn't hang a dog on that, far less mount a formal disciplinary process. So ask yourself ‘what do I mean by ‘bad attitude?’ What actually happened to cause a person to reach that conclusion? We would need to know what Joe said or did to determine whether there is unacceptable misconduct.
The investigation meeting is not part of the formal disciplinary process and therefore there is no right to be accompanied, though this point is often bitterly argued. It can be helpful to include a sentence in your disciplinary procedure which makes this quite clear. The purpose of an investigation is a fact fine; no more.
The investigating officer must ensure that he carries out an investigation which looks at all the facts holistically. It should not just look for evidence of guilt, but evidence which may explain the issue and evidence of innocence.
Sometimes it takes two or three reviews of the facts to gather enough evidence to decide whether or not there’s a case to answer. There’s been a rash of cases recently which have clearly showed that an inadequate investigation can lead to a finding of unfair dismissal.
We train managers and HR professionals to carry out effective workplace investigations all the time, so if you need a helping hand, give us a call.
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