Drawing on my recent experiences and with the knowledge that, sadly, it is a fact of employment life, one day you will in all likelihood have to carry out a workplace disciplinary investigation. A daunting task regardless of how well you know the subject of the investigation.
The responsibility weighs heavily – how much investigation do you need to carry out? Who do you need to interview as part of this? What happens if they refuse to be interviewed? Or what to do if they wish to remain anonymous.
From my experience the specific issues that are worth considering include the following:
Plan your investigation and timescales and keep the employee updated on progress especially if they are suspended from work. By planning carefully who you need to interview, what documents you will need, and which policies you will need to refer to, you will ultimately save yourself time and help you to focus on what needs to be done and by when. For example, often witnesses aren’t available to interview when you think they might be either with holidays or off-duty time so by planning ahead you can schedule all your interviews and information gathering;
Carefully plan for your interviews. I suggest you approach your interviews by believing nothing you are told which will ensure that you probe and question your witnesses so that you are content with the information you are receiving – especially helpful if you can then corroborate information. You are not however conducting a criminal investigation so leave out the Inspector Taggart line of questioning. You are merely gathering information to enable you to decide, on the balance of probabilities whether or not the alleged incident(s) took place. Hence why it is always better to get more than one witness to an event although quite often this is not possible.
Be open with the employee and allow them to have as much information about the allegation as you have during your investigation to enable them to explain their version of events. It is quite possible that during your investigation you will find out lots of positive information about the person as well as some potentially negative things about them in connection, perhaps, with the allegation. I think it is always important to be balanced and therefore include all the positive and negative information gathered within the investigation report.
Once you are ready, prepare your investigation report and make recommendations as to whether there is a case to answer and need to progress to a full disciplinary hearing. It may be however that you have not found sufficient evidence of said allegation and there will be no further action taken albeit that you may wish to make some recommendations such as reiterating standards and expectations. You will need to carefully consider how you will relay this information to the employee particularly if they are suspended and discuss with them when they should return to work bringing them up to speed with any events which have occurred during their suspension and reintegrating them back to the workplace as smoothly as possible.
As with all employment matters don’t hesitate to contact me if you need further assistance or if you simply want to discuss your investigation plan or report. There are good resources on the ACAS website too; in particular an outline for an investigation plan and an investigation report – www.acas.org.uk