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Top 5 tips for workplace investigators

23 January 2014

As news emerges that a government agency has ordered a review of its division responsible for internal investigations, it is timely to look at the top 5 points to remember when conducting a workplace investigation.

In this complex case, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, the high-level review is looking into allegations of heavy-handed tactics by an internal investigations team and suggestions that the matter should have been referred to police rather than investigated by the team.

With conflict of interest issues also arising and ongoing negative publicity over the way the investigation has been handled, this serves as a reminder to all those investigating matters within a workplace that care should be taken, the proper process observed and outside advice sought when necessary.

With the new anti-bullying jurisdiction of the Fair Work Commission further pressuring employers to handle complaints about behaviour effectively and promptly, it is essential that anyone conducting an internal workplace investigation does so with the required skill, objectivity, available time and appropriate support.

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If the integrity of the investigation is weakened this creates a risk to the organisation and could become costly in more ways than one. Some important points to remember when conducting an investigation are:

1. Ask, am I the best person to undertake this investigation? Do I have the objectivity, time, training and skills?

If the answer to this question is "maybe not" it may be prudent to engage an external provider who comes with the requisite experience and impartiality.

2. Make sure the principles of natural justice are adhered to.

This includes everyone who is part of the investigation; the respondent(s) as well as the complainant(s).

3. Remember the process can be lengthy and also highly stressful; avoiding acting hastily, trying to cut corners or rush things.

This is also a matter of fairness as parties need to be given a reasonable amount of time to respond to allegations or counter allegations. An investigator must have the time available to devote to investigating thoroughly and may need to think carefully about how to manage the various aspects of the investigation.

4. Make clear findings.

Every specific element of a complaint must be addressed when making findings. No one should be left in doubt. A lack of clarity is not only unfair to those involved it is also generally unhelpful as the organisation may need to look at post investigation activities such as reviewing policies and processes or providing training.

5. Maintain confidentiality throughout the process.

This means ensuring that all the parties understand the need for confidentiality and the consequences of breaching it, at all stages of the investigation.

For more information on workplace investigations, workplace bullying and other HR issues visit our media and resources page.

iHR Australia conducts independent workplace investigations, workplace inquiries and mediation and offers Workplace Investigation Officer training throughout Australia.

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