In our previous insight article, we discussed how to deal with tricky employee situations – both from a prevention perspective and in terms of rapid and appropriate response.

Sadly, some scenarios do ‘grow legs’ and can require exploration and undertaking, which gets to the core of the behaviour or issue.

An investigation may become necessary to ascertain the facts of what has actually gone on, not least because without this approach, you can risk the culture within your workforce and, potentially, even your wider brand.

Playing out on the national stage, we’re witnessing a situation where a major broadcaster is being called to account for its own HR procedures over a particular issue among individuals in their employment.

This serves to remind us all that no matter how big the brand and how seemingly loved and ‘safe’ it might be reputationally from the perspective of the public, it is critical that employees are well supported and that they are heard and managed appropriately all levels within a business.

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Is an Investigation Necessary?

This is the first step of any HR process.

Not every alleged grievance or discipline issue might require a full investigation, but it’s essential to be clear about those which do.

It is upon the employer to follow fair practice, to work in the best interests of all parties to ensure the appropriate processes are followed, and to ensure they are doing everything possible to gain the full facts.

Preparation and Planning

If it’s considered that an investigation is necessary, you’ll want to ensure you’ve gathered all the appropriate information, evidence and insight.

You’ll want to access such things as:

  • Complaint submissions
  • Performance reviews
  • Incident reports
  • Timeframes
  • Witness contributions
  • CCTV, IT or other monitoring data which you lawfully hold

The planning phase should also look at who will conduct the investigation, what external guidance you need, who will attend, and what timeframe you expect it to follow. The independence of the investigating officer is vital, and should further formal action be required, this should be conducted by another person entirely. Where the size or structure of the organisation prohibits this, utilising the expertise of an external partner can be helpful.

Conducting the Investigation

Remain fair and objective throughout the process, maintaining confidentiality as appropriate, and communicate with relevant stakeholders (those contributing to the investigation and others impacted by it) about what is happening and what you envisage being the likely timeframe, or commitment of them.

Ensure you have all the physical evidence you need to explore the case.
Such elements might include emails, phone records, attendance details etc.

Follow the law and your company procedure at every step, ensuring you document the process.

Be mindful of your employee’s mental health and well-being throughout the process, and consider alternative ways to conduct investigations if it is simply impossible for certain parties to attend traditionally.

Concluding and Evaluating:

Most investigations result in either a formal action (for example, initiating a full disciplinary or carrying out further investigation) or informal action (like suggesting training for those involved). In some instances, there is no case to answer based on the information available.

Conclusions should be fully communicated to all parties, with well-documented processes followed, and actions dealt with swiftly.

It would be appropriate to continue to serve the employee with suggestions around supporting their mental health and wellbeing.

A Chance to Reflect on Culture:

The most important thing is what happens beyond the investigation.

Take the time to look at what exists within your current corporate culture, which may have made it more manageable for the issue to arise.

Consider what more you can do to prevent such scenarios.

This is often a great time to bring in external support to aid in developing a new strategy for your employee culture.