An external investigations consultant can be an asset to internally managed workplace investigations

As a manager, business owner or HR professional, you may find yourself investigating a wide range of internal issues such as customer complaints, employee discrimination, workplace bullying and harassment, workplace injuries, unfair management decisions or inefficient business practices. All of these types of investigations require different skills and training to accomplish proficiently.
A well-conducted internal investigation helps ensure an appropriate response to the issue at hand and protects the business against legal risk down the track. The Employment Relations Authority archive is chock full of cases in which employers have failed to respond appropriately to employee complaints or to investigate thoroughly and correctly.
Hiring an external consultant to investigate, is not always a financially viable option, particularly for small businesses. However, many investigation firms are now offering ‘supported investigation’ services, whereby the business conducts the investigative activities under the guidance of an experience external consultant. This method of investigating reduces the risk of getting things wrong and is a cheaper option than hiring an external investigator to conduct the entire process.
A fair, thorough and procedurally sound investigation process not only  gives protection to the business but also gives those involved greater confidence in the process and improves the likelihood of the outcomes being accepted. Conducting an investigation, with the peace of mind of knowing that you have an expert at your side, can make the whole process much less stressful.

Elements of an Investigation

Steps to Consider

  • Receiving Allegations

  • Recording Allegations

  • Notifying External Agencies

  • Potential Protected Disclosures

  • Preliminary Inquiries

  • Assessing the Information

  • Deciding to Investigate or Not

  • Confidentiality

  • Protecting the Complainant

  • Confidentiality of the Witnesses

  • Planning the Investigation

  • Defining the Scope and Purpose

  • Identifying Where to Find Information

  • Record Keeping

  • Collecting and Handling Documents

  • Tracing the Investigation

  • Conducting Interviews

  • Taking Statements

  • Analysis and Reporting

  • Relevant Standard of Evidence

  • Using Experts

  • Writing the Investigation Report

  • Following Fair and Natural Justice

  • Making Determinations

  • Dealing with Dissatisfaction

  • Treatment of Affected Persons

  • Notifying Complainants

  • Possible Mediation Processes

  • Getting Your Normal Day to Day Work Done

What is Procedural Fairness (Natural Justice)?

Why is it important?

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:

  1. The person under investigation is given fair opportunity to be heard on the matters in issue;
  2. the decision-maker is impartial
  3. the outcome is not predetermined
  4. 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.

The Danger of Unconscious Bias

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?

Supported Investigations can Help Eliminate Bias

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.