All investigations must adhere to the principles of procedural fairness (natural justice), particularly where the potential outcome could have a significant impact on the employment of the person under investigation.
The basic components of Procedural Fairness:
- The person under investigation is given fair opportunity to be heard on the matters in issue;
- the decision-maker is impartial
- the outcome is not predetermined
- the findings are based on sound evidence not supposition
The devil is frequently in the detail when it comes to the process undertaken. In fact, many legal rulings made against employers, are caused by process failure. That’s why it’s important to stick closely to the rule of procedural fairness in all investigative activities.
When often think of the term ‘unconscious bias’ in the context of recruitment. But the core beliefs and life experiences that shape us and inform our unconscious biases are equally relevant in the context of workplace investigations.
For example, when a manager, supervisor or HR professional is called upon to conduct a workplace investigation, there is a strong likelihood they already know one or both parties and have subconsciously formed opinions about those people in their everyday interactions with them. Aside from your own personal experiences, your opinions may also be based on what other people have told you about the person.
Sometimes it can be difficult to determine what your unconscious biases may be because, as the term suggests, they are beliefs or assumptions that we are not always conscious we hold.
It is vital that all conclusions drawn from a workplace investigation, are evidence based and are not influenced by personal opinion, core beliefs, generalisations or supposition. So how do we guard against unconscious bias to ensure a fair process?
Having an impartial external consultant guide you through an investigation can provide the perspective you need to overcome unconscious bias and provide the checks and balances required to ensure the outcomes are fair and based on fact rather than feeling. An external specialist, with no prior relationship with either party, can help by;
a. identifying and challenging your assumptions;
b. ensuring you’re following all necessary lines of enquiry;
c. helping you structure interview questions for maximum effect; and
d. keeping you on track in respect to fair process.