Our clients may access a comprehensive guide for dealing with complaints and the record keeping necessary to prove that the investigation was fair and thorough. The major points are outlined below.
Assess whether a Formal Investigation is Necessary
First decide whether the complaint warrants a formal investigation. Some problems can be resolved quickly and informally without an investigation, and it is usually in the best interest of both employer and employee to attempt a resolution as quickly and effectively as possible.
Plan the Investigation
A poorly planned or ineffective investigation may be worse than no investigation at all.
The employer needs to be prepared to conduct an objective, fair and thorough investigation. The investigation planning needs to be flexible. For example, the scope of the investigation may need to be expanded if the evidence leads to allegations that people other than the accused harasser engage in similar conduct in the workplace.
Determine who should conduct the investigation is an essential part of any planning process having regard to the complainant and the acceptability and credibility of the investigator.
Collect all Relevant Documents. All relevant documents should be identified and reviewed promptly.
Keep Comprehensive Files. Files should typically include copies of all relevant company policies; personnel files of the complaining employee and the accused; records of prior complaints against the accused; a written plan identifying who will be interviewed and the sequence of those interviews; and a chronology of relevant events.
Who to Interview
Regardless of who first learns of the problem, there may be a need to conduct one or more follow-up interviews with the complaining party and, the alleged offender, direct witnesses, other witnesses with relevant information and people whom the complaining employee has asked you to interview.
Avoid going on fishing expeditions, and limit the number of interviews to only those reasonably determined to have relevant information. Be prepared to conduct follow-up interviews as necessary.
Once the basic allegations and issues have been identified, determine whether there is a need for interim action pending completion of the investigation, including:
Prepare thoroughly. Consider: where the interview will take place, who will conduct the interview, what questions will be asked and what statements will be made at the start and close of the interview, and how you will document both the information obtained from and the instruction and assurances provided to the interviewee.
Allow Sufficient Time for a Thorough Investigation
The employee being interviewed should never be given the impression that there is a time limit on the meeting.
A good interviewer will remain calm and in control throughout the interviewThe goal is to obtain information, not to provide editorial comment.
Focus on the Facts
Be prepared to explore issues or complaints which come to light in the investigation, but guard against allowing the investigative interview to turn into a general discussion of grievances.
Keep Accurate Notes and Records (signed and dated)
Take the time to write your notes, and go over your notes before you complete the interview to make sure that you have accurately recorded all relevant information obtained, and have covered all issues.
Reach a Conclusion
Very few issues are black and white. It is, however, important to reach a conclusion. Examine the objective facts, consider motivations, and determine what standards of proof should apply.
Report back to those involved
Once finalised, follow up with both the complainant and the accused. Explain that their assistance was appreciated but that the conclusions drawn and actions taken are confidential to the immediate parties.
Document the final discussion with the Complainant
Consider a written communication to the employee who raised the complaint informing that the investigation has been completed, that each issue has been reviewed and considered carefully, and that appropriate action is being taken.
This may include the following:
Investigation Reports and Files
Depending upon the seriousness of the issues involved, consider preparation of a final investigative report summarizing the incident or issues under investigation. Documents gathered or prepared during the investigation may become an exhibit before an industrial tribunal.
The goal should be that an Industrial Tribunal or Anti-Discrimination Board or similar body would conclude that the employer took the situation seriously, responded appropriately, and had a documented good faith basis for any actions taken during or on the basis of the investigation.
Should you require more information or assistance in conducting a workplace investigation contact us.