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How to Conduct a Workplace Investigation

Published 02 Jul 2018

As with any disciplinary procedure workplace investigations are also heavily process driven. An investigation very often forms a critical part of a disciplinary action and must be carried out in good faith using the principals of natural justice.

Businesses often have detailed policies around issues such as bullying, harassment and complaints, but are often silent on what an actual investigation is or how it is conducted. Here are some ground rules.

When you receive a complaint about a staff member albeit from a member of the general public or another employee you should have a policy of dealing with it regardless of perceived seriousness. If an employer fails to sufficiently address the complaint, an employee may raise a personal grievance and even make a claim to the Human Rights Commission.

Once a complaint has been lodged and you decide an investigation is required any and all witnesses should be interviewed. Witnesses normally cannot remain anonymous, nor make 'off the record' comments. Part of fair process is that people must know exactly what they are alleged to have done.
Witnesses should be told that the information they give will be confidential to the investigation, but that the person whose conduct is under investigation will be given the notes/summary of meeting notes and this will identify the witness. Confirm the meeting notes back with the witness before you give these to the employee concerned.

If the complaint received is deemed to be serious enough in nature the employer may wish to consider suspending the employee while the investigation is conducted. There is of course a process to suspend also, (see our discipline eBook).

Once all witnesses have been spoken to any their accounts documented the employer needs to call a formal meeting with the employee who is allegedly at fault. This needs to be done in the usual 'formal way', stating the issues, providing any evidence, documentation and investigation notes, suggesting a time to meet with notice and the offer of representation.

Keep a paper trail. This can be electronic. Document everything, letters, emails, meeting minutes and phone calls.

After the disciplinary action has been decided on (if any) and the investigation is closed the employer should report back to the complainant and say if their complaint was upheld or not and is now considered closed. The employer should not discuss any details around the disciplinary process.