Workplace investigations can be timely and complex. From undertaking initial enquiries to undertaking witness interviews, it is important to ensure that a procedurally fair process is undertaken to maintain the integrity of the investigation and to be able to confidently rely upon its outcomes in taking disciplinary action. To ensure your next workplace investigation runs smoothly, the team at NRA Legal have developed five top tips for conducting effective workplace investigations.

  1. Plan the investigation

Planning the investigation is the foundation of any successful workplace investigation. This includes identifying the scope and objective of the investigation, selecting the right team members to conduct the investigation, and determining the appropriate methods to collect and analyse evidence.

The first step in planning a workplace investigation is to define the scope of the investigation. This means identifying the specific issue or allegation that needs to be investigated and determining the timeframe in which the incident occurred. The scope should be defined clearly and precisely to ensure that the investigation remains focused and efficient.

The next step is to select the right team members to conduct the investigation. The team members should be knowledgeable and experienced in conducting workplace investigations and should be trained in the specific area of the investigation. This may include human resources personnel, legal counsel, or external investigators. It is important to ensure that the team members are free from bias and have no personal or professional conflicts of interest.

Once the team is assembled, the investigation methods should be determined. This includes deciding on the types of evidence that will be collected, such as witness statements, documents, CCTV footage and other relevant information. The team should also determine how the evidence will be collected, such as through interviews, surveys, or other methods. It is important to ensure that the methods used are appropriate for the specific issue being investigated.

2. Remain impartial

Remaining impartial is a critical component of any workplace investigation. It is essential to approach the investigation with an open mind and gather all relevant facts objectively. Investigators should not take sides, jump to conclusions, or make assumptions based on personal biases or opinions.

To remain impartial, investigators should start by reviewing the facts of the case and avoiding any preconceived notions or assumptions. They should approach each interview with an open mind, seeking to understand the perspectives of all parties involved. Further, they should also avoid making any judgments or comments that could be interpreted as biased or prejudiced.

It is important to ensure that all parties involved in the investigation are treated fairly and with respect. Investigators should avoid any behaviour that could be perceived as intimidating, aggressive, or coercive. They should listen carefully to the concerns of all parties involved and give them the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings.

In addition, investigators should avoid any conflicts of interest that could compromise their impartiality. This may include refraining from taking part in the investigation if they have a personal or professional relationship with any of the parties involved.

  1. Ensure confidentiality

Confidentiality plays an important part in any investigation. All parties involved should be informed that the investigation will be conducted in a confidential manner. The investigator should only share information on a need-to-know basis and should take steps to protect the privacy of those involved.

To ensure confidentiality, investigators should inform all parties involved of the importance of confidentiality and the consequences of violating it. This includes informing them that they should not discuss the investigation with anyone outside of the investigation team, and that any breach of confidentiality could result in disciplinary action.

It is also important to limit access to the investigation by keeping all records and evidence related to the investigation in a secure location. Investigators should also ensure that any electronic communication related to the investigation is sent only to those who have a need to know and is marked as confidential.

  1. Conduct thorough interviews

Conducting thorough interviews is a critical component of any workplace investigation. Interviews provide an opportunity to gather information from all parties involved in the investigation, including witnesses, complainants, and alleged wrongdoers. To ensure that interviews are conducted effectively, investigators should follow a structured and systematic approach.

The first step in conducting effective interviews is to prepare thoroughly. This involves reviewing the facts of the case, identifying the key issues and questions to be addressed, and developing a list of interview questions. The questions should be open-ended and designed to elicit detailed and specific information. The interviewer should also prepare an introduction to explain the purpose of the interview and provide assurance of confidentiality.

During the interview, it is important to establish rapport with the interviewee and make them feel comfortable. This includes using active listening skills, such as nodding, paraphrasing, and asking clarifying questions. It is important to allow the interviewee to tell their story in their own words, without interruption or leading questions.

The interviewer should also be mindful of non-verbal cues, such as body language and tone of voice. They should avoid any behaviour that could be interpreted as intimidating or aggressive and should remain calm and professional at all times.

In addition, investigators should be transparent about the investigation process and provide regular updates to those involved. This includes informing them of the progress of the investigation and any expected timelines for completion. It is important to maintain open communication channels throughout the investigation and to be available to answer any questions or concerns that arise.

  1. Document everything

It is important to document and retain records of all steps taken, interviews had, and relevant material disclosed throughout the investigation process. These materials should be used as the basis on which to draft an investigation report and will be the material relied upon to either substantiate or not substantiate any allegation. The report should include a summary of the allegations, a description of the investigation process, a summary of the evidence gathered, and a conclusion based on the evidence. Any conclusions must be made ‘on the balance of probabilities’, meaning that in order to substantiate an allegation, it must be ‘more likely than not’ to have occurred.

To ensure that the report is effective, it should be written in a clear and concise manner, using plain language that is easy to understand. The report should be organized in a logical manner, with clear headings and subheadings. It should also include a table of contents and an executive summary, which provides a brief overview of the investigation findings and recommendations.

When writing the report, it is important to avoid any personal opinions or judgments. The report should be based solely on the facts gathered during the investigation. It should also be objective and unbiased, without favouring any particular party.

Finally, the report should be distributed only to those who have a need to know. This includes the relevant managers and human resources personnel.

Want to know more?

Come along to our Workplace Investigations Masterclass on 31 May 2023 at 10.00am (AEST), presented by Lindsay Carroll, Legal Practice Director. You can find out more information and register here.

Alternatively, to speak to a member of our Workplace Relations team, please call our hotline on 1800 RETAIL (738 245).