I have been supporting business owners with workplace investigations for many years now and even when someone calls me with a case which appears to be “clear cut gross misconduct” I always say let’s wait and see what facts we can gather.
In some cases, the issue may appear to be obvious – something has been damaged, money has gone missing or a complaint seems clear cut but it is important to carry out a robust investigation before any conclusion on the action to be taken is made.
My advice in relation to carrying out a robust investigation is:
- Appoint someone to investigate who understands the issue but has not had any involvement in the case
- Ensure the person appointed to investigate goes into it with an open mind
- Plan what information you need to gather and the people you need to speak to as part of your investigation
- Work out if all employees can be at work whilst the investigation is ongoing or if suspension is appropriate
- Gather the facts – normally this will involve steps such as reviewing company records, looking at training records, taking statements from those involved or looking at CCTV
Only after the facts have been gathered should a decision be made on whether there is a case to answer and what the next steps should be.
The Post Office case is different as the Sub Postmasters were not employees but they should have been offered the same robust investigation process when dealing with the allegations which arose. The investigators should always enter into the process with an open mind and be prepared to be wrong about the allegation.
I also think HR professionals have role to play in looking at the bigger picture when we are advising on workplace investigations. Questions I would ask are:
- Is the process you need staff to follow clear?
- What training has been put in place to communicate standards to staff?
- Has this issue arisen before or is this a one off?
- Could the issue be related to a wider problem?
- If the issue has arisen before how was it dealt with?
- How long has the employee worked for you? Has this issue ever arisen in the past?
- Are there any mitigating circumstances related to the case?
A robust investigation may be an extra step that takes up time initially but in the long term it is key in demonstrating that a fair process has been followed.
For further advice on workplace investigations please feel free to get in touch.