Workplace Investigations

in Investigation

Investigations, especially pertaining to issues in the workplace, take many forms. It can be that a Manager looks into a small spat between two members of his team. He carries out the investigation into the positions of each team member, makes a decision which is acceptable to both and life goes back to normal. This type of dispute resolution should not be under-estimated as it is very powerful. Its clear advantages are:

1. Both parties can readily see the advantages to themselves

2. They can see that the investigation was fair

3. Time wasted was at a minimum and probably did not impact on their income

4. The resolution is likely to be permanent as the decision was made by their manager, for whom they both had some respect or they would not be working for him/her.

5. The cost to the organisation is minimal

6. No other employee is involved and their time is not wasted.

Really, this is what management is all about, and the supporting tool is the investigation. As with all tools they are used better if they come with a set of instructions in their use. Of course management training is the key. Other forms of investigations may be required where workplace issues cannot be so readily resolved. In-house investigations may be required in response to a formal Grievance. In this case it is important that the investigator is absolutely clear about the detail of the dispute, and looks at the hard evidence that has been provided with the Grievance.

The investigator has to match behavior against intention. Behavior is what actually happened, was viewed by witnesses or what was written down and here emails are invaluable as they are dated and timed. Intention is what the organization or the statute book has laid down as to what the behavior should be or should have been. The investigator should report the differences between behavior and intention, and if requested can give some solution recommendations.

If this resolves the dispute well and good, but the internal investigator, however remote from the issue, must ensure that he/she is not open to the accusation that the findings support the organisation for job security reasons. This can be difficult and the clearer the evidence the less likely the accusation.

Experience has shown that organisations are better placed if they use external specialist investigators. Clearly an external investigator has no axe to grind, given that payment is guaranteed regardless of the recommendation. Professional investigators should use an investigation template which enable the investigator to be sure that all areas of background to the dispute are covered. An external investigator will not just review the direct evidence of the dispute. He/she should also look at past history in the company/department, staff turnover for both, histories of past Grievances, patterns in staff and management behaviour, Policies and Procedures, behaviour out of work and literally a whole host of other areas that may have a contributing factor on the dispute being investigated.

We should also touch on Methodology and how a professional investigator will carry out the investigation. This is an overlooked asset to an external investigation, since it provides an even playing field to all witnesses and participants.

In some very hostile disputes it can take the heat out of the situation quite readily.

It is important that each interviewee has his/her rights confirmed, especially right to be accompanied. ACAS Codes of Practice limit this to either a Trade Union representative or a work colleague. It makes no recommendation as to rights where there is no trade union presence and/or where no colleague will provide support for fear of repercussion. In this case it is sensible for a relative to act as support provided they are not a member of the legal fraternity. Other rights are to breaks in proceedings for comfort or otherwise and for medical or sickness reasons including stress.

We should touch on costs as most organisations need to take a risk assessment no matter how small or large the issue.

Clearly, where a manager handles a dispute internally to his department the cost is almost negligible, merely temporary non-production while the issue is resolved.

Larger investigations can run into many thousands of pounds. Where a 20 person department is in dispute and 30 witnesses are to be interviewed, followed by a determination of the causes and effects and then a recommendation, 15 days may well be needed, and an organisation may budget for £20,000.

But if the external investigation prevents an employment tribunal hearing it is saving money. Quite a significant amount of money. A tribunal hearing average cost is about £16,000 and the ceiling on a proven constructive dismissal is £66,000. Add to this the new power of the 2008 Employment Act which grants Employment Judges to vary the award by 25%, according to circumstances. Therefore the external professional investigation could save a six figure exposure.

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David A Pratt has 1 articles online

David A Pratt is a Director of HR & Diversity Management Ltd (+44 1793 338888) an HR Consultancy specialising in workplace dispute resolution. He is also a Trustee of the National Bullying Helpline (+44 845 22 55 787)

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Workplace Investigations

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This article was published on 2010/04/03