Effective Workplace Investigations

As investigations have become more and more common and necessary in the workplace to deal with issues such as complex grievances, allegations of bullying and harassment, breaches of operational standards and potential misconduct, it is critical that they are conducted in a fair and procedurally correct manner, to ensure that they don’t contribute to a flawed procedure if investigation findings ultimately lead to the dismissal of an employee. Here are some of the key aspects which should be considered to help ensure any investigation procedure is robust and stands up to scrutiny:

Effective Workplace Investigations

  • Ensure that allegations to be answered are specific and describe what is alleged in order that findings can be made against them. Allegations should not be vague or emotive. Respondents must also be issued with clear allegations in advance of any investigation meeting in order to ensure that they have every opportunity to respond to them.
  • Ensure that there are a set of Terms of Reference in place to indicate the purpose of the investigation, the relevant policy or policies that underpin the investigation, the process to be followed, time-lines, meeting protocols, report requirements, witness and evidence handling etc., so that all parties are clear at the outset how the process will work. A clearly drafted set of Terms of Reference at the outset will minimise delays and interruptions and most importantly provide clarity for everyone involved
  • Ensure that interviews are conducted in a professional but open style that allows rapport to be build and for the interviewee to have the best possible opportunity to present their account, whether they are a complainant, respondent or witness.
  • An investigator must ensure that that all relevant witnesses are interviewed and all relevant evidence is considered including in particular contradictory evidence, in what may appear to be a black and white situation. An investigator should have a reliable reason for not interviewing suggested witnesses.Some cases that have highlighted this particularly well are the Woodies Cashier who was awarded €15k for being unfairly dismissed for taking a €50 note as other employees who had the potential to take the money were not interviewed, as well the Duty Manager in Dublin Airport who was ordered to be re-engaged by the Labour Court after being dismissed for allegedly kissing an employee. Again key witnesses and the complainant were not interviewed during the investigation and disciplinary processes.
  • Investigators must be independent and impartial at all times. Investigator bias can be very real and it is critical that all findings are evidence and fact based and can stand on their own two feet. Good preparation, thoroughness and an open mind are essential.

Carmel Murphy is an experienced workplace investigator who has conducted numerous workplace investigations and hearings, for a broad range of organisations across all sectors, in the following areas:

  • Bullying & Harassment Complaints and Appeals;
  • Grievance Hearings and Appeals;
  • Misconduct Allegations;
  • Disciplinary Hearings and Appeals; and
  • General Workplace Related Complaints involving Board Members, Customers and Employees.

Email info@hrsolutions.ie for further information or telephone Carmel on (071) 9642748