Being an employer brings a great many challenges, one of the most unpleasant of which is when a business has to carry out a disciplinary investigation on its staff. It is essential that these investigations are implemented quickly and properly.
Problems can arise in any workplace and making sure these problems are dealt with fairly and consistently may require an investigation. Investigations are fact-finding exercises to collect all the relevant information related to the matter.
A properly conducted investigation allows an employer to fully consider the matter to make an informed decision in order to take the next steps. The investigator should gather and document the issues relating to the matter, consider what evidence may be available and relevant, and how it may be collected.
The Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedure
The Acas Code of Practice is not law, but serves as a useful benchmark for employers and tribunals as to what is considered to be a fair procedure. The key principles are that issues are dealt with promptly, consistently and the appropriate investigations are made.
Acas suggests that investigations should be undertaken by a neutral person, who will not be in charge of conducting the disciplinary hearing. Appeals where possible, should also be heard by someone not previously involved. In a small business this may not be practical, but these are points to bear in mind.
Speed and confidentiality are essential
In cases of misconduct, it is critical to ensure that an investigation is carried out as soon as possible after the alleged incident to ensure clarity and prevent those involved discussing the matter.
Key 8 steps to take
- Appoint an investigator
- Clarify what is being investigated and how serious it could be
- Consider whether to suspend the employee
- Interview the employee and take notes on the matter
- Interview any witnesses
- Gather any other evidence
- Decide whether the allegations could relate to a criminal offence
- Complete the investigation and prepare your report
When may an investigation be necessary?
Most matters that arise in a workplace can be resolved informally and quickly. If an informal resolution is not possible, then an investigation may be necessary if formal action is needed, such as a written warning.
- Receiving a grievance from an employee
- Allegations of bullying and harassment
- Potential disciplinary matters against an employee
- Concerns over company policies and procedures
Why is a properly conducted investigation important?
Investigations are an essential part of handling certain matters within an organisation. In potential disciplinary investigations a flawed or incomplete investigation can undermine the disciplinary process and leave employers vulnerable to claims for unfair dismissal.
For an employer to dismiss an employee they must be able to show that they:
- Genuinely believed that misconduct had occurred
- Had reasonable grounds for this belief
- Arrived at this belief after a reasonable investigation
For a dismissal to be fair an employer must be able to show that they came to their decision as a result of a fair and thorough investigation.
Investigations are just as important when a grievance has been raised. Where the grievance is not upheld, the evidence collected during the investigation can be used to explain the reasons behind this and show an employee that their grievance was taken seriously.
What is an investigator’s role?
An investigator should try to be fair and objective when carrying out an investigation. They should look for evidence that supports and undermines the allegations.
Wherever practical an investigator should be:
- Available during the investigation’s expected timeframe
- Not personally involved in the matter being investigated
- Not involved in any subsequent decision making on the matter
- Be trained in how to conduct an investigation
When conducting an investigation, an investigator should:
• Consider what the issues of the matter under investigation are
• Plan how the investigation will be conducted
• Decide in what order evidence will be collected
• Collect all relevant evidence and consider what the evidence shows
• Report their findings
What should an investigation include?
An investigator should be given details that set out exactly what they are expected to investigate. Their investigation should aim to establish the facts of the matter by collecting relevant evidence, such as witness statements, written documents and physical evidence and drawing a conclusion.
How much investigation is required and how it should be approached will vary from matter to matter. A complicated matter may take several weeks to conduct properly. A relatively simple matter may only require a small amount of investigation for it to be reasonable.