When does a matter require a workplace investigation?

investigation matter

workplace investigation matter

In iHR Australia’s recent poll, we asked subscribers for their opinion on a matter of both harassment, confidentiality and whether it should proceed to a workplace investigation. Respondents were presented with the following question and then provided with the corresponding actions to choose from:

After a company event, a female employee complains informally about their manager, alleging that the manager behaved inappropriately towards them at the event. The employee, however, has clearly stated that they do not want the company to take any action in regards to the matter.  In your opinion, what is the morally correct course of action?

Keep the matter confidential to avoid identification/victimisation of the employee. 15%

Ensure the matter is appropriately investigated to protect and maintain appropriate standards of behaviour in the workplace. 69%

Other. 16%

In a poll that attracted more than 150 responses, a majority (69%) of respondents responded that the morally correct course of action was to ensure the matter is appropriately investigated to protect and maintain appropriate standards of behaviour in the workplace.

Dr Verena Marshall, who is a facilitator and investigator with iHR Australia, noted that whilst an investigation to address the matter may be a consideration, there are several steps and strategies that can be implemented, depending on the seriousness of the events and the acknowledgement of the parties involved.

Firstly, on addressing their request for confidentiality, Dr Marshall noted that the organisation does have to take action in order to meet their obligations to all of its employees.

“The company has a duty of care, meaning organisation has to follow up a complaint about behaviour, as confidentiality can only go as far as the law allows. Although, in terms of the follow up action, a workplace investigation is not always, nor should be, the default strategy to such allegations.”

It important for organisations to take note of the level of seriousness of the behaviour, where interpretations could vary from person to person. The organisation has to establish as to whether it’s high-end or low-end seriousness.  If the matter is considered low-end, there are strategies to implement before taking the investigation route.

In terms of procedural fairness, organisations can bring the alleged manager in and give them the chance to provide their side of the story. This would give the manager a chance to admit fault or acknowledge wrong doing and offer their apologies, where from there an appropriate dealing of the matter can be decided.

Another strategy can be to provide all managers and employees with training on the topic of harassment in the workplace. Dr Marshall adds “This can remind individuals of the duty of care that managers have for their employees and their responsibilities as custodians of culture to the organisation. Managers need to be role models of the behaviour expected for all employees, which ideally is underlined by the company policy.”

If the matter is deemed high-end in seriousness and the alleged manager refutes their actions, “an investigation should be considered”, Dr Marshall added. She explained, “Should the manager dispute the events totally or the serious extent of the allegations, then at that point an investigation would likely be required to get to the bottom of it.”