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Top Tips for Employers on Workplace Investigations

View profile for Natasha Johnston
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A workplace investigation is an investigation a process undertaken with the view of establishing the facts of an unclear situation. They are typically used in relation to disciplinary matters or grievances.  

Tip 1

It is important to train any employees who could be called upon to conduct an investigation such as supervisors or your senior management team. Ideally, this training should be refreshed on an annual basis.

This could be for example, supervisors, managers and your senior management team within the organisation. Training should include:

  • How to interview witnesses and encourage employees to provide all the information you require
  • How to gather and obtain other sources of evidence, for example, physical evidence such as CCTV, photographs or workplace records e.g. training records and clocking in records
  • How to document evidence correctly and how to present findings clearly and logically
  • The difference between being an investigation office and a decision officer, they are very separate roles and it is important for the fairness of the process the lines are not crossed

This training should be refreshed ideally on an annual basis. 

Tip 2

Be aware that the investigating officer should not have had any involvement in the issues being investigated nor should they be a potential witness to the issues under investigation. When selecting an investigating officer we recommend:

  • They are of at least the same grade as the most senior employee under investigation
  • They have been appropriately trained
  • They are entirely independent of the issues being investigated and the employees direct management hierarchy for disciplinary issues
  • Bear in mind, in a grievance situation it can be appropriate for the investigator and decision maker to be the same person

You should have a clear selection criteria for the investigating officer. If you cannot find an impartial investigation officer and if no one in the organisation satisfies their criteria, you should consider outsourcing to ensure the process is unbiased and objective.

Tip 3

Ensure the manager who commissions the investigation clearly sets out the scope of the investigation.  

For example:

Asking ‘can you investigate an issue that occurred between employee A and employee B last week?’ is not sufficient as it is very broad and could produce an investigation report that is not relevant to the issues at the centre of the investigation.

However, they could ask ‘please investigate and provide a report outlining the issues that occurred between employee A and employee B in the afternoon of 1st April in the 2nd floor office.’ gives a clear indication to the investigation officer of what they need to look into.

This ensures that the investigation is focused on a specific issue and the report will assist the decision manager in determining how to proceed with the process.

Where new issues are brought to light, the investigating officer should go back to the commissioning manager to ask them if they wish to extend the scope of the investigation, an investigating officer should not further investigate issues without firstly seeking clarification on how to address the new information brought to light to ensure this does not jeopardise other processes in any way.

Tip 4

Take the time to plan the investigation process. Dependent upon the nature of the issue and the complexity of the investigation you may need to consider how you will obtain and analyse different sources of evidence. You may also need to reallocate the workload of the investigating officer so that they can focus on the investigation and produce a detailed investigation report.

  1. Reallocating work of the investigation officer to ensure they have sufficient time to manage the process within the required timescale and not to be distracted from the investigative process
     
  2. Making an investigation plan including:
  • What policies may need to be referred to as part of the process
  • Who relevant witnesses are
  • What other sources of evidence are relevant e.g. training records, CCTV, IT reports etc.
  • Planning questioning of witnesses so the investigation meeting are structured and planned
  • Dedicating as much time to analysing the evidence  and providing a detailed investigation report (not just a collection of witness statements!) to ensure the investigation process enables the decision manager to effectively make their decisions

Tip 5

Make sure that investigations are managed promptly and in a reasonable fashion. It is best practice for an investigation to have been commissioned and completed within 3-4 weeks of being made aware of an issue. Delaying an investigation or not adequately investigating issues can result in issues of procedural unfairness.


If you would like to discuss workplace investigations further, including any training requirements, please do not hesitate to contact our Employment and HR team by emailing law@jcpsolicitors.co.uk or call 03333 208644.

This content does not constitute legal advice and is provided for general information purposes only.