Workplace investigation can be smooth but can also be a witch hunt, depending upon how it is being conducted.
If your employer starts the process without informing you it might lead to building a wrong or bad image and even false accusations.
What we need to understand here is that although the employer has the right to figure out how things will proceed in his/her organization, an employee who is being investigated also has certain rights.
Let’s understand this better with the following pointers.
1. What is a Workplace Investigation?
Workplace investigations are just some activities that are done to collect some facts or evidence to get a better understanding of the real occurrence of an alleged or reported misdemeanor.
A reasonable investigation is necessary because if anything is conducted in a manner that is not appropriate it can be a grievance and can disrupt workplace discipline.
If anything is conducted unlawfully or in an unfair manner then it can lead to severe repercussions and the organization will be at the risk of legal action against them.
Even before the investigation begins all the necessities should be clarified and the whole course of action should be laid out, and the best method of intervention should be used.
2. What is Being Investigated?
This is where the employer comes into play, he/she needs to have a clear understanding of what is being investigated.
Also what will be the purpose or the scope of that investigation, how will it proceed, and what will be the role of the investigator as well as the employer?
This all can be termed as ‘terms of reference‘. It will also encompass the aim of investigation and requirements of the same.
Will it require a recommendation, when and how the results will be disclosed? Who will be the first receiver of those results and other such details?
3. How Long Should an Investigation Take?
Although it is obvious that any investigation needs to happen in a stipulated time frame this comes with an unsaid understanding that the investigator may take a little longer to be fair and justified in this process, there is a possibility of a new matter coming up in between the process so there has to be scope for that as well.
If beforehand no timeframe has been given then it is the employer’s duty to tell the employee that he/she will be investigated in a provisional timeline wherein it will be conducted, and it should strictly be followed.
4. Informing the Employee
The only reason when the employee should not be informed about an investigation is when there is an impending chance of them tampering with the evidence or the witnesses of the case.
In all other cases, they should be informed that they are being investigated as soon as possible and preferably at a justifiable time before the investigation is supposed to open.
The employee should also be made aware of the process of investigation, who will be carrying it out, and what all will be the steps in the process with a fair understanding of interpretations and repercussions.
5. Procedural Fairness
The employee in any workplace investigation should be given a fair chance at all steps of the process, no disciplinary action should be taken and there should be no constructive dismissal on any unfair grounds.
A democratic approach should be followed and stories and facts from both sides should be collected and given equal importance.
The employee who is being investigated should be given a clear and firm warning, and it should be indicative of the fact that if their behavior and performance do not improve it will affect their tenure.
Along with this, they should be provided with adequate training, preparation, and skill development time so that they can improve and you should also make sure that the employee understands what the problem is and also its consequences.
6. Keeping the Matter Confidential
It is an unsaid understanding that all such matters are confidential, everyone that is involved in the process or has an active knowledge of the matter should be explained that breach of the same will lead to disciplinary actions.
The investigation and all its aspect like witness list, evidence, and other facts like timings, place, and procedures should be dealt with in a confidential manner only, and primarily only the employee who is investigated should know all details.
7. Suspending an Employee in a Disciplinary Case
If the investigation needs to be protected, or the organization and its employees need the protection then the suspension can be chosen.
It can not merely be assigned as a disciplinary action because the employee is being investigated.
And in any case, if there is a scope of necessity of suspension then the employee should be informed in advance and it should also be made clear that it is not a part of any disciplinary action.
8. Absence from the Investigation Meeting
The employee who is being investigated should be present for the same at the pre-scheduled time and place. In case he/she fails to do the same, it should be rearranged.
However, given a situation occurs where the employee misses the arrangement repeatedly then the investigation will be carried out even in his absence, by using the available evidence and information.
In such a case the employer should inform the employee that informed decisions are being made and that the investigation is being carried out in the most fair way possible.
9. Final Thoughts
Once the investigation process is over the employee who is being investigated should be informed.
He/she also has the right to see the results once they have been provided to the person in charge.
Based on the report suitable actions are then taken, and whatever that was investigated is presented in a clear manner and conclusive reports are made.