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Conducting an Investigation

Here are our top ten tips for conducting workplace investigations:

  1. Choose the investigator carefully.  Professionalism, integrity, and diligence are important qualities, along with good communication skills. They should have an open mind and be mindful to avoid confirmation bias (looking for information consistent with existing beliefs). Above all, the investigator must be independent and impartial. this may be appropriate when dealing an investigation within a very small, close-knit business with very little chance of finding someone truly impartial. Someone external may also be appropriate for issues that require specialist skills and understanding.  
  2. Make a plan.  Have a clear terms of reference and methodology. This will help keep the investigation on track and ensure transparency and fairness. It will also assist in making findings at the end. 
  3. Conduct reasonable investigation. The amount of investigation required will vary depending on the individual circumstances. The legal test is that an employer must undertake such investigation as is reasonable in all the circumstances: the investigation needs to be robust but there is no need to make findings on every single disputed fact. 
  4. Take care with witness evidence. Carefully consider who to speak to as part of the investigation.  It is important to gather witness evidence but it still requires balance.  For example disciplinary matters, interviewing too many colleagues may undermine the accused to such an extent that it is impossible for them to return.  It may be useful for witnesses have advance notice of particular topics so that they can prepare, for example check their diaries or bring in relevant documents. Some witnesses might have particular needs, such as those relating to a disability, others may find the subject matter of the investigation difficult. Consider appropriate adjustments to make giving evidence less difficult. Would an interview outside of the workplace help, or should they be allowed to bring a companion?
  5. Remember that memories fade (pun intended). Witness interviews should be taken as soon as possible. Take full notes of interviews with each witness, ideally signed, or agreed, by the witness as an accurate reflection of matters discussed. Consider recording the interviews (with consent of course) to ensure an accurate record. 
  6. Preserve physical evidence. Think about whether any physical evidence is required, for example CCTV footage. Consider whether it is appropriate to notify relevant individuals to preserve evidence (emails etc) immediately.  Request the information as soon as possible – some evidence has a short shelf life, such as voicemail recordings. Care should be taken to ensure that data protection laws are complied with.
  7. Keep it confidential. Interviews should be conducted in private, and the importance of confidentiality emphasised to each witness. Where appropriate, witnesses should be reminded that breaching confidentiality is a disciplinary sanction. 
  8. Challenge the evidence. If there are inconsistencies or things that do not quite add up, challenge the evidence. Be persistent – do not give up if something needs to be followed through. 
  9. Manage expectations.  Let the employees and witnesses know what to expect and set time limits. If there are (often inevitable) delays as the investigation goes on, update the parties. 
  10. Keep a record.  It is important to retain the records to show that the investigation was fair and sufficiently thorough. Copies must be provided to an employee in advance of their disciplinary hearing and may be disclosable as part of a grievance process or an even Employment Tribunal claim in the future.