September 13, 2023

Workplace Investigations: Getting it Right!

Discover the key principles for successful workplace investigations, including procedural fairness, evidence handling, and more.

When it comes to conducting workplace investigations, adherence to fundamental principles is paramount. These principles serve as the bedrock upon which a fair and thorough investigation process is built. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the essential principles that underpin effective workplace investigations. From the delicate balance of probabilities to the imperative of procedural fairness, we'll delve into each aspect that ensures a just and well-documented investigation. Whether you're a manager, or an employee, understanding these principles is vital for upholding integrity and fairness within the workplace.

Basic Principles

βœ“ Balance of probabilities and reasonable person's test

βœ“ Must be procedurally fair and apply natural justice to respondents as well as complainants:

  • The Hearing Rule
  • The No Bias Rule
  • The Evidence Rule

βœ“ Must execute a Duty of Care:

  • Clear and concise explanation of process
  • Must not isolate or treat respondents differently
  • Must provide equal support to complainants and respondents
  • Must update the respondent throughout the process
  • EAP or Counselling Services

βœ“ Must be closed out properly to avoid recycling of issues


Remember, investigations graphic

When in doubt, investigate!

  1. If the matter is serious
  2. If an internal policy or external body requires investigation
  3. If the result could be termination of employment. Remember, the Investigation and the Disciplinary Process are two separate processes
  4. The evidence is so clear, obvious or persuasive, that the employee would not have a reasonable response- Investigation may not be required

Planning An Investigation

Before you start, consider:

βœ“ Do you have allegations or do you need to ascertain the allegations

βœ“ Seriousness of the matter (do you need legal privilege?)

βœ“ Complexity and likelihood of counter allegations

βœ“ Availability of internal staff (i.e., do you have the time to do it properly?)

βœ“ Experience of the Investigator and knowledge of policies / external body requirements (external appointment)

βœ“ Are there conflicts of interests / perceptions of bias of the Investigator

Who is the Decision Maker:

βœ“ The decision maker and Investigator are two separate role

βœ“ The Decision Maker should be neutral party and not have a stake in the outcome making a decision on the findings of the Investigation

Scoping the Investigation

βœ“ Establishes the parameters of the matter so things are not missed or dragged out

βœ“ Provides clear allegations that will be investigated (who/what/what/where when)

βœ“ Consider what witnesses may be needed

βœ“ Logistics of undertaking the Investigation

βœ“ Provides clarity to the Investigator and Decision Maker on limits of what is being investigated

βœ“ Stops multi-matters becoming intertwined (past issues come into the decision not the investigation)

βœ“ Scope can be revised during the process

Woman documenting

Document, Document, Document

βœ“ Documentation is evidence, evidence supports findings! Without documentation – it didn’t happen!

βœ“ Primary goal is to create a verifiable record on the Investigation

βœ“ Document your investigation steps / process (timeline and include the timeline in the investigation report)

βœ“ Texts, emails, voicemails, CCTV it is all evidence

βœ“ Interviews can be recorded with consent and the participant being provided with access (unless directed otherwise by legal privilege)

βœ“ Evidence should be attached to the Investigation Report or screenshot into the Investigation Report

βœ“ Objective and free from perceived decision

Investigation Interviews

βœ“ Gather pre-existing evidence

βœ“ Invite to interview, offer support person and remind of confidentiality

βœ“ Interview in person wherever possible

βœ“ Interview order: Complainant/Witnesses/Respondent

βœ“ Provide the allegations to the Respondent before interview

– important to be procedurally fair

βœ“ Open questions related to the allegations (what/where/when/how)

βœ“ Plan your questions to align to the allegations to avoid things being missed

βœ“ Use words like β€˜Can’ you describe, β€˜Can you explain?’, β€˜Can you provide evidence?’

βœ“ Listen actively (recording interviews may help with being able to listen)

βœ“ Be respectful

Investigation Reports

βœ“ Assume they will be disclosable in a court of law

βœ“ Provide a concise executive summary or conclusion summary

βœ“ Document the methodology

βœ“ Document your standard of proof (Balance of Probabilities)

βœ“ Document your value of evidence

  • It is firsthand?
  • It is corroborated?
  • It is credible?

βœ“ Document Findings:

  • Substantiated
  • Unsubstantiated
  • Inconclusive

If you ever find yourself in need of assistance or advice when conducting an investigation, don't hesitate to reach out. Upholding these principles ensures fairness, transparency, and the preservation of integrity in every workplace investigation you undertake.

Contact: or you can call HR Dynamics on 1800 877 747

The information available on this website is intended to be a general information resource regarding matters covered and it is not tailored to individual specific circumstances or intended as a substitute for legal advice. Although we make strong efforts to make sure our information is accurate, HR Dynamics cannot guarantee that all the information on this website is always correct, complete, or up-to-date. HR Dynamics recommendations and any information obtained on this website do not constitute legal advice.

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