Carrying Out Workplace Investigations

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Workplace InvestigationsInappropriate behaviors in the workplace must be taken seriously in order to avoid consequences for employers.  Workplace Investigations should be launched whenever there are allegations or suspicions of performance governance issues, misconduct, or wrongdoing. A failure to act to carry out a workplace investigation can leave your business vulnerable to legal problems including a finding of fault by the Fair Work Commission.


OHL Lawyers can provide invaluable assistance to employers in determining if they have a duty to investigate and in making the choice whether an internal or external workplace investigation should occur. Our legal team can also conduct an investigation for your organization or provide guidance throughout the investigation process to ensure your organization is fair and balanced, maintains confidentiality and privacy, and manages competing interests to reduce the risk of ongoing legal problems.  Call us as soon as possible if you believe an investigation is necessary into any behavior in your workplace.


When Must a Workplace Investigation Be Carried Out?


A workplace investigation must be carried out whenever complaints are made against fellow employees or against members of the management team. It is important that no one is immune from investigations of wrongdoing, including senior executives.  Some examples of situations where it may be necessary to carry out a workplace investigation include when:


  • Formal complaints are made of workplace harassment, discrimination, or bullying.
  • Workplace matters arise that have serious financial implications or that affect senior or high level workers.
  • Third parties including insurers make a request that a workplace investigation be carried out.
  • An in-house HR manager or other employment professional believes there are performance issues or issues of harassment, discrimination, or bullying.
  • A workplace matter arises that could escalate to litigation.


These are just a few of many situations where your organization needs to take action to determine if there is a problem that leaves your business vulnerable to legal action or that puts you employees at risk.


Should You Conduct an Internal Workplace Investigation or Bring in a Workplace External Investigator?


Workplace InvestigationsA legal professional including a lawyer at OHL Lawyers can serve as an outside workplace investigator after allegations of wrongdoing have been made. Your human resources professionals or full-time staff members in charge of worker relations can also conduct internal workplace investigations.


You must make a smart choice about whether your workplace investigation can be handled internally or whether an unbiased outsider with legal knowledge should be brought in.  In general, it is best to conduct an external workplace investigation if the accusations made may result in litigation; if senior executives or top level workers have been accused of wrongdoing, or if there are likely to be conflicts of interest.


When you opt for an internal workplace investigation, you should make sure the investigator has the skill set and know how to understand both your organization’s policies as well as the laws applicable to the situation.  A workplace investigator should take great care to be objective and unbiased and ensure the workplace investigation is fair to all parties. It may also be beneficial to separate the role of workplace investigator from the role of decision-maker.


What Should Be Included In your Workplace Investigation?


An workplace investigation must be tailored to the specifics of the situation. Organizational policies and laws related to bullying, harassment, employee codes of conduct, and bullying should be carefully reviewed prior to and during the workplace investigation, and decisions should be made on whether staff members should be suspended during the workplace investigation process.


You should conduct comprehensive interviews of all involved parties, including the accused, the accuser, and witnesses.  All parties involved should also be made aware of their obligations regarding confidentiality and should be alerted to rules related to defamation.


You must maintain procedural fairness throughout the workplace investigation process and must have procedures and systems in place to assess the credibility of those who make statements or submit to interviews. Detailed reporting requirements should be followed throughout the investigation process and the totality of relevant evidence should be considered in coming to conclusions.


When complaints are substantiated, assistance should be provided to resolve issues through mediation, or conciliation and any appropriate disciplinary action should be undertaken. A lawyer can provide assistance with resolution strategies to help ensure that all parties are satisfied with the outcome of the workplace investigation and the actions taken in response to decisions made by internal or external workplace investigators.


Why is it Important to Conduct an Adequate Workplace Investigation?


Workplace InvestigationsThee are several key reasons why you should always ensure an adequate workplace investigation is conducted whenever there are performance governance issues or allegations of wrongdoing or misconduct.  You must conduct a thorough and adequate workplace investigation:


  • To maintain confidence in management and to maintain workplace morale.
  • To ensure employees are all treated fairly and that disciplinary proceedings are carried out in a uniform manner.
  • To reduce the risk of litigation, which can be costly and time consuming and can create adverse publicity.
  • To reduce the risk of a dismissal being challenged by an employee, which if successful could result in reinstatement and payment of compensation to the dismissed worker.
  • To reduce the potential the Fair Work Commission will find fault with an investigation.


You need to protect the interests of all of your workers, as well as of your organization.  Owen Hodge Lawyers is here and ready to provide you with assistance by conducting an external investigation or by advising your organization of its rights and obligations. Give us a call as soon as possible when you suspect misconduct, wrongdoing or performance issues in your workplace that need further review.

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