Don’t Look the Other Way – Workplace Investigations in Albury Wodonga
Don’t look the other way. That’s the message employers in Albury Wodonga should take to heart when it comes to workplace investigations. In the modern workplace, there are a variety of issues that can arise that should be addressed, from discrimination and harassment to safety concerns and more.
But too often, employers look the other way, out of fear that a workplace investigation will lead to costly legal action. However, the cost of not conducting a thorough, timely investigation can be far higher, leading to costly lawsuits and damage to the organization’s reputation. By taking a proactive approach to workplace investigations, employers can ensure that any issues are addressed promptly and appropriately, without putting the organization at risk.
Definition of Workplace Investigations
An investigation is a fact-finding mission meant to provide clarity regarding some event or action. A workplace investigation is used as a tool for employers to find and assess the root cause of problems within the workplace, such as discrimination and harassment, compliance issues, and inappropriate behaviour.
There are different types of workplace investigations. They can be internal or external. Internal investigations are conducted by the company, while external investigations are conducted by a third party. They can be focused on an individual or on a broader issue.
Why Workplace Investigations are Important
Workplace investigations are critical for two reasons. First, they help uncover the facts of an issue so that an appropriate corrective action can be taken. Second, they help prevent future issues from arising.
Investing time and energy in finding out the facts and correcting any issues that arise can save the organization time, money, and reputation down the road. With respect to the first reason, when an investigation is conducted, it provides clarity to all parties involved, including the alleged victim, the accused, and any witnesses who provide statements. This allows the organization to take appropriate corrective action, such as terminating employment or providing training, as needed.
With respect to the second reason, workplace investigations can help prevent problems from arising in the future. For example, if an investigation reveals that employees are experiencing sexual harassment at work, the organization can take steps to address the issue such as providing training or offering a different work schedule. This can help prevent future issues from arising.
Legal Implications of Not Investigating
If an employer fails to conduct an investigation when there is a potential legal issue in the workplace, the employer may be opening itself up to legal liability.
The following are some common types of legal action that can arise.
- Discrimination and Harassment – If an employer fails to investigate a discrimination or harassment complaint, the employer may be held liable as if they had condoned the behaviour. This means that the employer could be responsible for the actions of the person who committed the misconduct.
- Failure to Properly Vet a Potential Employee – If an employer fails to investigate a candidate for employment, there is risk of a negligent hiring lawsuit. This occurs when an employer fails to uncover information that might have disqualified the candidate.
- Wrongful Termination – If an employer terminates an employee for reasons other than poor performance or misconduct, there is a risk of a wrongful termination lawsuit. Employers should be careful not to jump to conclusions when an employee is let go.
Steps for Conducting a Workplace Investigation
When conducting a workplace investigation, employers should keep the following steps in mind.
- Assess the Situation – Before beginning an investigation into an issue at work, the employer should first determine the nature of the issue. Is it a one-time incident or a larger issue? Is there a potential victim? Is there a potential suspect?
- Establish a Team – Employers should also establish a team to lead the investigation. This team can include HR, managers, and others who can help lead the investigation.
- Collect the Facts – Once the investigation is underway, the team can begin collecting the facts related to the situation. This can include interviewing witnesses, reviewing video footage, or collecting other records. Employers should be careful not to jump to conclusions during the investigation.
- Analyse the Facts – Once the facts have been collected, the team can then analyse the information to determine what happened. This can help reveal potential causes of the issue and help the team devise a corrective action plan.
- Report the Results – Once the investigation is complete, the team can then report the findings to the employer. This can include presenting any recommendations or a corrective action plan.
Establishing Policies for Workplace Investigations
When employers conduct workplace investigations, they should also establish policies for how those investigations will be conducted. These policies can help ensure that investigations are conducted in a consistent and correct manner.
Also, with written policies, employers can show that they are taking these investigations seriously and that the information being gathered is reliable. There are a variety of different types of policies employers can establish when conducting workplace investigations.
They can include:
- Written expectations for employees: This can include expectations for both employees and managers, including how issues should be reported, how investigations should be conducted, and what types of things should be documented. This can also include expectations for investigators, including how investigators should be impartial and how long an investigation should take.
- Standard operating procedures: This can provide a general outline of how investigations should be conducted. It can include information such as where meetings should be held, what evidence is needed, and the type of people who should be on the team.
- Privacy policies: Employers should also consider privacy policies. These can help protect the privacy of the investigation, including how information is stored and shared. This can help protect the privacy of all parties involved.
Ensuring Confidentiality During Investigations
While investigations are meant to address potential issues, they also provide an opportunity for employees to come forward with issues that they have been struggling with in silence. In some cases, however, employees may be hesitant to come forward, fearing the repercussions of speaking up.
Employers can help ensure that their investigations are confidential, providing employees with the support they need, while also making the investigation more effective. Confidentiality during investigations can help employees feel comfortable coming forward with their issues, while also protecting them from any potential backlash.
Here are some ways employers can ensure confidentiality during investigations.
- Change the Location: The location of the investigation can help make the process more confidential. This can include conducting the meeting in a private office as opposed to a conference room, or meeting in a more remote location such as someone’s house or a coffee shop.
- Keep the Investigation Closely Guarded: When conducting an investigation, employers should keep the information as closely guarded as possible. This can include keeping the number of people who know about the investigation to a minimum and not discussing the investigation with other employees.
- Get Signed Consent from Employees: If employees are likely to be involved in the investigation, employers can have them sign a consent form. This can help ensure that the information gathered during the investigation remains confidential.
Dealing with the Outcome of an Investigation
After an investigation is complete, employers can then decide how to proceed. Employers can choose to take one of three approaches.
- Investigate and Correct the Issue – If the investigation reveals a legitimate issue, the employer can address the issue and correct it. This can include providing the employee with support, re-training employees, or terminating employment as needed.
- Investigate and Document the Issue – In some cases, an employer may want to conduct an investigation but not take corrective action. This can be done to collect more information or to gather evidence to support a future decision. Employers can still provide employees with support and correct any discriminatory or harassing behaviour as needed.
- Do Nothing – Employers are not required to take any action in response to an investigation. In these situations, employers can decide to do nothing and simply document the results of the investigation. This can be helpful for the employer if an issue arises in the future and the employer has evidence that an investigation was conducted and nothing was done.
The workplace investigation process may sound like a daunting process, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way.
Contact Jolasers to help you navigate through the stormy waters of a workplace investigation.
Call Stephen Oliver to help you with your Albury Wodonga workplace Investigation