Whenever there is a possible workplace grievance or disciplinary issue, employers should conduct a fair investigation to establish the facts before acting.
Remember, an investigation is not part of the disciplinary process. This should be made clear to any employees involved from the outset. It will only become a disciplinary issue once the investigation has been carried out and a conclusion reached as to whether any formal action should be taken.
Who should conduct the investigation?
Wherever possible, the investigation should be carried out by someone who will not ultimately be involved in any disciplinary action.
The investigating officer should not assume guilt or innocence, and should interview the employee first to find out their version of events. He or she may admit to committing the act in question, may deny it, or may give an explanation.
Legally, the employee does not have the right to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative at an investigation interview. However, employers may wish to consider a request for representation, depending on the circumstances.
Remember that the investigating officer is only there to gather the facts of the case. They must ensure that the interview does not become a disciplinary hearing.
During an investigatory interview, the investigating officer should:
Ensure that a quiet private space is available for carrying out interviews.
Explain the purpose of the interview – an investigation is not part of the disciplinary process.
Notify the employee of the alleged incident.
Explain how the interview will be conducted.
Go through pre-prepared questions in order to establish the facts.
Ask any supplementary questions to follow up issues raised.
If new information is submitted, consider adjourning the interview in order to seek clarification.
Explain that the meeting may be re-convened if new information comes to light after the initial investigatory interview.
Give the employee an opportunity to state their case and provide any information pertinent to the investigation.
Take clear and precise notes. It’s usually advisable to have a note taker present.
The investigating officer should then interview witnesses who may be involved or aware of what had happened. Again, clear and precise notes are required.
Preparing a report
After each interview, the investigating officer should prepare notes that reflect the discussions that took place during the meeting and ask the employee to sign them as an accurate record of events (unless the witnesses have agreed to their names being revealed, these should be removed).
If the investigation subsequently results in a disciplinary process, the employee will need to be given access to all evidence obtained during the investigation, so ensure that everyone is happy for the information they have provided to be used.. They need to be aware that anonymity cannot be guaranteed unless there is a genuine fear of reprisal.
Once the investigation is completed, the investigating officer should prepare a report summarising the findings.
The employee will be informed of the outcome by their line manager. Either he or she will be told that no further action will be taken, or the employee should be invited to attend a disciplinary hearing.