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Do I need an independent workplace investigator?

Workplace misconduct is a critical issue in Australian workplaces.

Bullying complaints.

Stalking allegations.

Complaints about a colleague’s offensive behaviour.

These are common examples of the kinds of issues WorkPlacePLUS investigates on behalf of our clients and their employees.

Serious workplace incidents or allegations require a prompt response by the employer. This means not only conducting a fair and confidential workplace investigation, but also following a communication plan to discuss the matter with the parties involved, and providing a timeframe for any decisions or potential action.

Whenever a manager receives a verbal or formal written complaint, there is a range of thought processes, lines of questioning, evidence and facts that need to be collected.

From the moment a grievance or complaint is received, two critical steps must be taken:

Critical Step #1 – Document Everything!

Many people undertake a preliminary investigation without even realising it, and consequently do not document this crucial information.

The initial discussions had with the complainant and respondent become the foundation for understanding the heart of the matter. Documenting these discussions enables the person who is investigating, whether they are an internal or independent party, to establish the allegations and to resolve the issues in an efficient manner.

Critical Step #2 – Decide: Do you need an independent workplace investigator?

Whether an investigation is conducted internally or externally, it must adhere to natural justice principles, confidentiality, rules of evidence, legal and policy compliance, and health and safety regulations. These standards help to ensure a fair and equitable process for all and allow an organisation to respond with the appropriate action.

Conducting an investigation internally will have some advantages – the internal investigator (Staff Member) understands the unique culture of the organisation, knows the parties involved, and is in an appropriate role to make recommendations and implement decisions.

However, internal workplace investigations are prone to accusations of lack procedural fairness, transparency or perceived conflict of interest.

5 reasons to hire an independent workplace investigator:

  1. Lack of sufficient internal resources. If your organisation does not have staff who are trained in conducting investigations, or if you cannot afford to redirect limited internal resources away from their day-to-day operations, a poorly-planned investigation could expose you to a number of risks.

  2. Objectivity. Your internal investigator (e.g.HR person) may feel uncomfortable or unable to undertake the investigation process objectively. Engaging an independent workplace investigator is critical when there is a risk that an internal investigator may be biased, or perceived to be biased.

  3. Efficiency. Resolving a complaint requires prompt action. An independent workplace investigator will ensure the management of the process within the appropriate time frames, the minimising of poor staff morale, the health and wellbeing of the parties involved, and the protection of your organisation’s reputation and/or expense.

  4. Serious allegations. If there is a complaint against a member of staff, or a serious allegation that may require organisational culture and operating frameworks to be considered, an independent investigator has the capacity to bring a fresh perspective to the situation and offer change management support.

  5. Third party legal requirements. Certain complaints and grievances have the potential to lead to litigation or involve third party intervention, e.g. allegations of discrimination and potential workers’ compensation claims such as bullying or harassment. Third parties such as insurers and unions may require an organisation to hire an independent workplace investigator.

Workplace investigations must be conducted professionally from interview stage through to the final report. This strengthens the findings, in case they are challenged by the staff member, union or court system.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Set the Standards report confirms that independent, unbiased systems of reporting and investigating incidents are key to fostering a respectful workplace.

WorkPlacePLUS has a qualified team of consultants with extensive experience in conducting unbiased evidence-based workplace investigations. We can ensure your compliance with the Fair Work Act 2009 and Work, Health & Safety regulations while you continue to focus on your day-to-day operations. Our consultants are trained private investigators and experts in remaining focused and sensitive throughout the entire process. We can even assist in restoring team harmony and productivity after the investigation.

For more information, please contact us today.


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