How HR investigations should be conducted for workplace investigation

What is an HR investigation and when is it needed?

Employees may occasionally make complaints against coworkers or supervisors may find an employee’s behaviour to be inappropriate; in these cases, the company must conduct an investigation as part of the process to address conduct concerns. An investigation, put simply, is a process of gathering information to enable decision-making and the recommendation of appropriate action(s).In order for HR investigations to be fair, it is crucial that there be no prejudicial viewpoints present and that the proper procedure is adhered to in order to prevent any harm to the organisation.

Should HR investigate all claims and if not, why?

There is currently no rule governing who should conduct an inquiry, but to guarantee the investigation is fair, the investigating officer should, whenever feasible, be entirely unbiased in the subject. The investigator may come from HR, however this is not common practise unless there is a really sensitive or difficult matter for which no one is qualified to handle it (or if the organisation is small). If an HR team member conducts the inquiry, a senior HR team member should be present to provide support in the event that the matter moves on to a disciplinary hearing. Typically, HR would advise investigative officers on legal issues, commercial risks, and how to ensure a fair process is being followed.  If no one is judged appropriate internally, firms occasionally hire outside HR experts to undertake inquiries.

What makes a good HR Investigator?

While investigators must be objective, they also need to possess other traits to guarantee a complete investigation.

Knowledge – To comprehend how the individual’s conduct has violated the company’s policies and procedures, investigators must have a solid grasp of these elements. They should make sure they are well-informed on the duties performed by the person, how they contribute to the work of others within the organisation, and the standards required of this role.

Communication – The investigator should be able to express their inquiries properly and follow up inquiries to elicit additional details and close any information gaps. It is usually advisable for the investigator to give a summary of the advice offered by the individual throughout the meeting after questions have been raised and responses have been given. Then, the individual should either confirm the information the investigator has acknowledged as accurate or offer further advice. This helps you recognise and identify any shortcomings. Investigators must make sure they are paying attention to the person and not just reading from the meeting notes.

Approachable – For some people, attending investigation meetings can be a really nerve-wracking experience. The investigator must be conscious of their own personality, emotions, and body language as well as those of the subject of the investigation in order to extract as much information as possible from the meeting. As the investigating officer, you must maintain objectivity and refrain from letting your feelings or opinions about the incident show in your questions or tone of voice. You must also continue to be approachable so that the person feels free to speak openly and honestly with you and not withhold any information. Some people can be quite sensitive and emotional when it comes to sharing information.  They must be given space to collect their thoughts, respond to the inquiry, or take a break while investigators acknowledge their emotional condition.  A box of Kleenex is always helpful to have in the space!  Once the person is at ease speaking, they will be more inclined to share information.

Experienced – Investigation officers should have expertise holding these meetings, particularly if the allegations are serious and could have a negative effect on the business or the individual’s ability to find employment. Investigators should be able to piece together information and be critical of both the person’s and the company’s practises in order to solve problems and recommend and implement adjustments to avoid such problems in the future. Investigators must make sure they have obtained enough material to allow for a fair assessment from all parties and that all information is kept private.

What is the workplace investigation process?

When an employer receives a complaint or has concerns about a worker’s behaviour, they should follow the company’s policies and procedures and seek guidance from their HR team. It is crucial to:

1. Think on the information about the complaint or concern that was initially made available to you. Do you need written statements? Do you need to think about suspension or other responsibilities?
2. Choose the right person to conduct the investigation by asking yourself questions such as who would be objective, who has the necessary expertise or experience, and who would be proactive.
3. Investigative planning – Think about the information you’ve already received, any further documents you need to evaluate in connection with it, the people the investigating officer needs to visit with and in what order, and your overall game plan.

4. Gather information and conduct meetings with the subject and any witnesses you may find using tools like CCTV, emails, documents, and meeting minutes.
5. Make suggestions based on your analysis of the data, taking into account possible outcomes for the subject of the investigation, the complaint, any witnesses, and any choices that could have an effect on the entire business, such as a shift in working practises or policy.
6. Write a report on the investigations that includes the allegation, information about the personnel involved, the procedures used to acquire information and conduct the investigation, conclusions, recommendations (informal, formal, or no action), and business risks.

The employee under investigation should be informed of the investigation’s purpose, who is conducting it, the timeline, the need for confidentiality, and the following stages. Employers should take support for wellbeing and mental health into consideration because investigations are stressful for all affected personnel.

It is vital to acquire as much facts as you can to achieve a well-balanced inquiry. Investigations need to be fair and objective. So that facts may be gathered, investigations should be carried out in a suitable amount of time. A fair timeline will ensure that no one forgets any important details, leaves the company, or the material is no longer accessible. Communication with the employee is crucial, especially if there will be problems with the timeline.

Companions in an Investigation Meeting?

Employers are not required to give employees the opportunity to be accompanied throughout the inquiry stage; nevertheless, they have the right to do so during disciplinary or grievance hearings. Some employers permit companions during the investigation phase out of good practise or because they are concerned for the employee’s welfare. Typically, the companion is a work colleague or a union official. Disabled employees should be permitted, under discrimination law, to have support in investigative sessions, such as from their Support Worker.

The employee’s companions are permitted to speak at the meeting on their behalf, but they are not permitted to respond to questions that are put directly to the employee by the employer or to prevent the employee from responding.

Witnesses and their Role in the Investigation

If someone was there when an incident occurred, they may be requested for a statement and, if necessary, invited as a witness to an investigative meeting. The person being investigated has the right to see the information provided by witnesses if the investigation leads to a disciplinary hearing. Witnesses should be made aware that their statements and any information they provide in meetings will be shared with other people helping the investigation.

Questions to ask a witness:

  • Dates, times, and places of incidents they saw or heard 
  •  Specifically what they saw, who was there, and how close they were to the incident
  • Did they file reports about this incident or earlier ones?
  • Did they participate in any way—challenge, assist, or just make a passing remark—
  • What did they think had happened, and why did they think it had happened or why did they think it was inappropriate?

The meeting’s notes should be sent to the witnesses for their records, and they should be warned not to discuss specifics of the conversation in order to protect the integrity of the inquiry.

Questions to ask the individual being investigated:

  • Can you describe what happened on Monday in detail?
  • What part did you play in these things?
  • Was there anyone else there when this happened?
  • Are you aware of the company’s ‘customer services’ policies and procedures, and how do your Monday activities relate to them?
  • Have you previously voiced any concerns about these things?
  • Do you feel your actions could have been different?
  • How does your behavior at this event compare to the company’s values, culture, and vision?

The interviewer must be objective and refrain from letting past interactions affect how they speak with the under investigation employee and the witnesses. Ask open-ended inquiries to give the worker time to respond:

  • Ask questions in a chronological order of events, keeping the allegation in mind while you do so.
  • Keep an objective attitude and watch out for queries that seem to be accusing the staff.
  • Inquire about any witnesses and concrete evidence that may exist.
  • Inquire as to what led others to make the claim if the employee disputes it.

A few tips on how to conduct an HR investigation well

To investigate adequately, you need to ensure that the investigation officer is:

  • Fair, impartial, self-assured, and skilled in conducting investigations
  • Make that the corporate procedure is being followed and that all employees who conduct investigations have received training.
  • Information is protected as private.
  • All available information is thoroughly examined during the investigation. You must be proactive because CCTV may only be accessible for a month before it is erased.
  • Timeframes must be taken into account as investigations must be prioritised, not only for the purpose of acquiring data but also for the effects they may have on the subject of the inquiry.
  • Think about whether you need to meet with any departing employees as soon as possible if they are involved in any way because they might not be accessible to meet after they have left the company.
  • Delays in an investigation may cause people to forget vital details or give the impression to employees that the situation is unimportant and the company is unwilling to challenge its workers.
  • Communicate with the subject of the investigation and make sure they are aware of all the charges, the timeline, and any delays.
  • Being able to challenge policies and ask difficult questions
  • Don’t accuse the person or assume guilt in the process

If you need any further advice please contact Clarity Simplicity at 0808 178 7292

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