Workplace investigations can be timely and complex. From undertaking initial investigations to conducting witness interviews, it is important to ensure that a procedurally fair process is undertaken to maintain the integrity of the investigation and to be able to confidently rely on its results when taking disciplinary action. To ensure your next workplace investigation goes smoothly, the NRA Legal team has developed five top tips for conducting effective workplace investigations.
- Plan the investigation
Investigation planning is the foundation of any successful workplace investigation. This includes identifying the scope and purpose of the investigation, selecting the right team members to conduct the investigation, and determining the appropriate methods for gathering and analyzing evidence.
The first step in planning a workplace investigation is to determine the scope of the investigation. This means identifying the specific problem or allegation that needs to be investigated and determining the time frame in which the incident occurred. The scope must be defined clearly and precisely to ensure that the investigation remains focused and effective.
The next step is to select the right team members to conduct the investigation. Team members must have knowledge and experience in conducting workplace investigations and must be trained in the specific area of the investigation. This may include human resources personnel, legal counsel, or outside investigators. It is important to ensure that team members are free of bias and have no personal or professional conflicts of interest.
Once the team is assembled, methods of investigation must be determined. This includes deciding on the types of evidence to be collected, such as witness statements, documents, CCTV footage and other relevant information. The team should also determine how the evidence will be collected, such as through interviews, surveys, or other methods. It is important to ensure that the methods used are appropriate for the particular problem under investigation.
2. Remain unbiased
Remaining impartial is a critical component of any workplace investigation. It is essential to approach the investigation with an open mind and objectively gather all relevant facts. Investigators should not take sides, jump to conclusions, or make assumptions based on personal biases or opinions.
To remain impartial, investigators must begin by reviewing the facts of the case and avoiding any preconceptions or assumptions. They should approach each interview with an open mind, seeking to understand the perspectives of all parties involved. In addition, they should also avoid making judgments or comments that could be construed as biased or biased.
It is important to ensure that all parties involved in the investigation are treated fairly and with respect. Investigators should avoid any behavior that could be perceived as intimidating, aggressive or coercive. They should listen carefully to the concerns of all parties involved and give them an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings.
In addition, investigators must avoid any conflicts of interest that could compromise their impartiality. This may include refraining from participating in the investigation if they have a personal or professional relationship with any of the parties involved.
- Ensure confidentiality
Confidentiality plays an important role in any investigation. All parties involved must be informed that the investigation will be conducted in a confidential manner. The researcher must share information only when necessary and must take steps to protect the privacy of those involved.
To ensure confidentiality, investigators must inform all parties involved of the importance of confidentiality and the consequences of breaching it. This includes informing them that they must not discuss the investigation with anyone outside the investigative team and that any breach of confidentiality may result in disciplinary action.
It is also important to limit access to the investigation by keeping all records and evidence related to the investigation in a secure location. Investigators must also ensure that any electronic communication related to the investigation is sent only to those with a need to know and is marked as confidential.
- Conduct in-depth interviews
Conducting in-depth interviews is a critical component of any workplace investigation. Interviews provide an opportunity to gather information from all parties involved in the investigation, including witnesses, complainants and alleged perpetrators. To ensure that interviews are conducted effectively, investigators must follow a structured and systematic approach.
The first step to conducting effective interviews is to prepare thoroughly. This includes reviewing the facts of the case, identifying the key issues and issues that need to be addressed, and developing a list of interview questions. Questions should be open-ended and designed to elicit detailed and specific information. The interviewer should also prepare an introduction to explain the purpose of the interview and provide an assurance of confidentiality.
During the interview, it is important to establish rapport with the interviewee and make them feel comfortable. This includes using active listening skills such as nodding, paraphrasing and asking clarifying questions. It is important to allow the interviewee to tell their story in their own words, without interruption or leading questions.
The interviewer should also consider non-verbal cues such as body language and tone of voice. They must avoid any behavior that could be interpreted as intimidating or aggressive and must remain calm and professional at all times.
In addition, investigators must be transparent about the investigative process and provide regular updates to those involved. This includes keeping them informed of the progress of the investigation and the expected timelines for completion. It is important to keep the lines of communication open during the investigation and be available to answer any questions or concerns that arise.
- Document everything
It is important to document and keep records of all steps taken, interviews conducted and relevant material uncovered during the investigative process. These materials are to be used as the basis for an investigation report and will be the material relied upon to substantiate or disprove the allegations. The report should include a summary of the allegations, a description of the investigative process, a summary of the evidence collected, and a conclusion based on the evidence. All conclusions must be made “on the balance of probabilities”, meaning that for an allegation to be justified it must be “more likely than not” that it happened.
To ensure that the report is effective, it should be written in a clear and concise manner, using clear and easy-to-understand language. The report should be organized in a logical manner, with clear headings and subheadings. It should also include a table of contents and an executive summary that provides a brief overview of the investigation’s findings and recommendations.
When writing the report, it is important to avoid any personal opinions or judgments. The report must be based solely on the facts gathered during the investigation. It must also be objective and impartial without favoring any particular party.
Finally, the report should be distributed only to those with a need to know. This includes relevant managers and HR staff.
Do you want to know more?
Come along to our Workplace Investigations Masterclass on 31 May 2023 at 10:00 (AEST) presented by Lindsey Carroll, Legal Practice Director. You can find more information and register here.
Alternatively, to speak to a member of our Workplace Relations team, please call our helpline on 1800 RETAIL (738 245).