Why an ‘investigation’ is your most powerful tool in any HR situation.
What is an investigation?
When something needs tackling at work, be it a suspicion of theft or dishonesty by an employee, an allegation of bullying or poor performance, it needs investigating before you can take action to resolve It. Carrying out a thorough investigation is essential to show that a legally fair procedure has been followed.
What happens if you get it wrong?
An investigation is in simple terms, a fact find. We often see our clients getting this wrong, sometimes because they don’t undertake a thorough investigation, sometimes it is biased or perceived to be biased, and sometimes there is no investigation at all! The result is often a subsequent disciplinary heading which doesn’t stack up, leaving you incapable of safely disciplining or dismissing an employee. Tribunal claims for unfair dismissal often succeed where the investigation has been flawed.
What happens if you get it right?
A thorough, objective and properly documented investigation allows you to move to either deciding to take no action if you feel confident that there is no case to answer. Usually, it allows you to move to a disciplinary stage with the backup of the evidence contained in the investigation report.
Who should conduct the investigation?
A: This depends on the type of business you run. You can get an external investigator, a line manager or a HR manager. Using your HR manager to conduct the investigation is not advisable unless you have a spare HR manager to advise on the disciplinary hearing so that they have not been involved in the investigation. Often in a small business, it is the owner-manager or one of the directors – sometimes resulting in allegations of bias by the employee. It is also hugely time-consuming and can be stressful.
Top tips on conducting an investigation
- Choose the right person to conduct the investigation.
- Be objective – note the important case of Ramphal v Department of Transport when the EAT was critical of HR influencing the findings of a manager’s investigation report.
- Identify the correct witnesses to be interviewed.
- Plan what questions need to be asked.
- Collect any relevant evidence e.g. emails, CCTV footage, timesheets, stock shortage evidence.
- Always read the report carefully and ask yourself “if my investigation report was disclosed in the witness box at an employment tribunal, would I feel comfortable with it?!”
What help can we give to you?
As well as providing legal advice on any aspect of an investigation, our Employment Law and HR Advisor team includes HR investigators who can come in and investigate any issue for you, saving you time and ensuring a thorough, objective investigation, leaving you free to run your business. Our investigators are trained to understand the important HR issues and to make sure investigations are compliant from an employment law perspective – giving you the peace of mind that if any disputes arise you will be in the best position to deal with them.
We work on day and half day rates and remember, if you are a Watertight member, you get 10% off our fees.