Workplace Investigations - Who Needs Them?

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Published by Preston Law on 13/07/2023

A workplace investigation is a process where information is collected and reviewed in relation to a complaint of inappropriate behaviour so that a judgement can be formed as to what happened.

The overall aim of workplace investigations is to resolve the situation and to achieve both a productive and safe work environment. A workplace investigation must be fair, sensitive, and defensible.

Workplace investigations are not about proving someone guilty or not guilty, they are about analysing all the available evidence and making an assessment as the whether it can be determined on the balance of probabilities that a complaint or allegation can or cannot be substantiated.

When to conduct a workplace investigation?

Investigations may be carried out in the workplace for a number of reasons such as:

  • Incidents or complaints in relation to harassment, discrimination, or bullying;
  • Workplace health and safety concerns;
  • Breaches of company policy or procedure;
  • Serious misconduct;
  • Breaches of honesty or trust; or
  • Allegations of fraud.

Why engage a workplace investigator?

Allegations of misconduct in relation to any of the above need to be taken seriously. Before conclusions are drawn on what is assumed to have happened or what is thought to have happened, it is fundamental that a workplace investigation is carried out so that any conclusions or outcomes are procedurally fair.

Workplace investigators can assist employers with navigating the severity of the complaint or allegations, to determine what an appropriate outcome should be and also determining if on the balance of probabilities, the allegation can or cannot be substantiated.

Unfair or bias management decisions can have a serious impact on employees, workplace culture, productivity, retention of staff and the general well-being of employees. Furthermore, if a workplace investigation is not conducted correctly, and an employer terminates an employees employment, there may be grounds for that employee to file for an unfair dismissal claim.

By engaging a workplace investigator, employers are ensuring that the allegations are investigated on a fair, impartial, and unbiased way. Investigators are equipped with the skills to apply natural justice to ensure a fair process for all.

What does an investigator do?

The role of an investigator is to apply the principles of natural justice to ensure a fair process for all. Investigators are empathetic, objective, and have attention to detail. They role model appropriate behaviours by being mature, understanding, and professional throughout the process. Investigators are able to adapt their approach as appropriate understanding that people respond differently and community in different ways. Throughout the investigation process investigators will usually take the following steps:

  • Investigators will review any complaints received and advise if an investigation is necessary in the circumstances;
  • They develop a high familiarity with an employer’s policies and procedures;
  • They will conduct interviews of the complainant and any witnesses to understand the complaint further;
  • Provide advice to the employer if formal allegations need to be presented to an employee about the complaint that has been made;
  • Provide allegations to employees regarding misconduct;
  • Conduct interviews with any employee presented with formal allegations; and
  • Provide a comprehensive report to the employer containing outcomes of the investigation as well as providing resolution activities or disciplinary processes that may be appropriate in the circumstances.

Overall, engaging a workplace investigator is recommended to ensure that any complaints are addressed in the most appropriate way but also to ensure that an impartial and fair process is followed at all times.

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