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Don't do a shoddy job - get your investigation right!

Investigation 9th October 2013

My goodness there is some dreadful practice out there, when people investigate workplace complaints!  All too often, we’re brought in to redo the investigation, do a paper review, or sit on an Appeal, and we see the evidence of shoddy work, biased questioning, no clear analysis of the evidence, and a report that is poorly written, badly cross-referenced (if at all) to the Statements, and inpentratable to any but the most dedicated of readers.

So what the world needs – if you don’t have the money to pay for proper training! – are guidelines to help you get it right.

So how should you do a professional job of an investigation, when you’re not a professional investigator?

Set up the investigation properly

Let people know in writing who you are and how the investigation will work. Cover confidentiality, your anticipated or policy timescales, and their rights of representation and support. Hold interviews in private and on neutral territory if possible, to minimise the ‘court room’ effect. And ensure you get all the information you need to clarify the complaint from specifically – what, exactly, are they complaining about, and what examples are they giving (dates, times, witnesses).

The right order for interviews

Remember you are investigating a complaint, not a person, so you’re looking for evidence about the specific allegations or incidents. This means finding witnesses to the complaint rather than for the complainant or respondent. See the complainant first, then the respondent, and ask both for any witness suggestions. Interview the witnesses last.

It’s a workplace investigation, not a court!

When you interview people, remember the more relaxed and less threatened they feel, the more information they will give and the better their memory will be. The idea that we tell the truth under a ‘grilling’ is outmoded, so set the scene, describe the process, run through ground rules in detail and check in how they feel before you move into the interview itself.

Start off with a ‘free account’ using open questions. Then start probing and seeking information, which will help assess the situation more fully.  Summarise along the way to make sure you aren’t misunderstanding or interpreting their words. Then explain what’s going to happen next, and your process for notes and reporting.

When you interview the respondent, you do need to give them the specific allegations – the key incidents and issues as described by the complainant – and get a detailed response from them.

 Writing your report

Have you got enough information to make a judgement on the balance of probability – rather than ‘beyond reasonable doubt’?  Check information gathered and go back to people if necessary. Double check the definitions in the relevant policy – or with ACAS if there isn’t one to follow. Then write your report!

What to include in your report

  • Introduction outlining the background, outline of circumstances in which investigation was commissioned, and a brief map of the process
  • The complaint – detailed account, examples, and additional information given by witnesses
  • The response – detailed account, examples, and additional information given by witnesses
  • Your findings (if this is your role). Please don’t give your personal view – an investigation report is no place for comments like ‘All too often, managers don’t know the difference between robust management and bullying, and Barry is no exception. The way he treated Mary Jane has no place in a progressive organisation like Big Shot Ltd’.
  • Include an appendix with:
    • Log of investigation, contact with parties
    • All correspondence
    • The notes of interview appropriately amended or signed off by parties

    If you want training in investigating skills, talk to us.   And if you’d like the reassurance of an external independent investigator, we’re the “go to” provider for many organisations. Why not give us a call?