In an ideal world, all employees would be happy 100% of the time. The reality however is that despite the best intentions of employers, things can and do go wrong. Allegations of misconduct could happen to any company, but the ability to effectively handle these and action workplace investigations with procedural fairness is what separates great organisations from the rest of the pack.
What is a Workplace Investigation?
Workplace Investigations are conducted as a result of complaints or accusations made against employers or other employees.
Although some situations such as personality clashes and personal disputes can be resolved with a conversation, if you are in doubt as to whether a Workplace Investigation is necessary, it probably is.
Allegations about serious misconduct of any kind such as health and safety breaches, harassment, bullying or discrimination should always be followed by a Workplace Investigation.
If a Workplace Investigation is handled improperly, it can lead to:
- Employer liability
- Lawsuits against the company
- Emotional upheaval for your employees
- Loss of productivity
- Risk of further complaints and lawsuits
All of the above will negatively impact your company’s revenue and could even cost you a lot of money in legal fees and payouts.
Your employees (both Perpetrator and Complainant) have a number of rights whilst you are conducting an investigation. You should always:
- Review your company’s organisational policies and ensure they’re in line with industry guidelines
- Ensure you are meeting all legislative obligations
- Clearly identify the allegations in writing
- Allow the Perpetrator the time to prepare a meaningful response to the allegations
- Make sufficient inquiries to verify the information given to you by the Perpetrator and Complainant
- Conduct your investigations confidentially and with discretion
- Offer all parties the opportunity to bring a ‘support person’ to their interview with the investigator
- Conduct all interviews separately and confidentially
- Create a detailed investigation report
- Meet separately with the Perpetrator and Complainant to discuss the outcome of the investigation
- Allow each party an opportunity to respond to the outcome
How Do I Protect My Business From Law Suits and Workplace Investigations?
To reduce the risk of complaints and accusations which lead to Workplace Investigations, you should:
- Outline behavioural expectations at hiring stage
- Have codes of conduct guidelines continuously accessible and visible to employees
- Provide regular training to ensure your staff understand and are up to date with codes of conduct
If and when you do face an accusation, conducting a fair and thorough investigation is the best way to reduce your risk of liability and avoid legal action against your company. Using an impartial third party is always a good idea, especially if the Perpetrator is a senior staff member.
It is also important to understand the emotional effect that a situation like this could have on the Perpetrator, Complainant and other employees in your organisation. Handling the situation efficiently, discretely, professionally and with compassion will go a long way in reducing further upheaval.
A proactive approach to the matter will also minimise your risk. Don’t just wait for a situation to arise, ensure you understand your obligations and have procedures and processes already in place in case of a serious complaint.
For more information on key employment law issues please download our Employment Law Summary.
What To Do If You’re Facing an Employee Suit or Complaint?
If you’re concerned about an employee dispute or law suit, or want to ensure you’re adequately prepared for any future complaints, call Atkinson Vinden Lawyers for a free initial consultation to discuss the best solution for you.
Overseeing workplace investigations yourself without professional and legal advice puts your business at risk. Acquiring professional assistance on the matter will not only save time and money but also eliminate any errors that could later prove costly for your business.
Give AV Lawyers a call on (02) 9411 4466 and let our expertise make the process easier for all involved parties.