Our team can perform an independent investigation from start to finish for you, or assist with individual components of an investigation as required.
Businesses may have to investigate issues of employee conduct. Investigations are initiated in response to a complaint or negative event in the workplace, such as an alleged bullying or sexual harassment claim. Our expert consultants undertake investigations to determine the facts on the balance of probability and separately recommend what disciplinary action, if any, should be taken. Sometimes, simply receiving a complaint or allegation of misconduct requires you to perform an investigation of some sort. A discussion with a Victorian Chamber consultant can assist in determining the action required given the circumstances as not all complaints require a formal investigation.
Our Workplace Relations consultants help businesses avoid mishandling investigations and reduce the risk of receiving claims in the first place.
Why are investigations necessary?
It is imperative that a business properly investigates serious workplace issues as not doing so can result in widespread consequences, including court action. A single issue can develop into an external claim, negative culture, decreased morale, absenteeism and employee turnover.
Where a workplace incident leads to the dismissal of an employee, a thorough investigation can prevent the business from experiencing adverse financial affects stemming from numerous or expensive claims or a loss of reputation, all of which can influence business viability.
Workplace investigations can be critical tools to:
- Manage employee grievances
- Target poor conduct and behaviour
- Manage serious misconduct and determining appropriate disciplinary action
- Assess workplace incidents
Why do investigations need to be independent?
The Fair Work Commission (FWC) insists that investigations are handled in a way that offers procedural fairness to both parties – the complainant and the respondent. Investigations need to consider the evidence for and against the claim, and find on balance, whether the allegations are substantiated.
Where an investigation finds the allegations are substantiated, serious disciplinary action such as termination of employment can often be the outcome. Most dismissals can be challenged by the employee, opening up your investigation to scrutiny by the FWC.
To avoid repercussions, it is important to conduct an investigation process with impartiality, objectivity and fairness. If there is any question around the independence of an internal investigator, your business can request someone from outside the business to assist and uphold these principles. The investigator needs to document all the key steps and evidence gathered to demonstrate the investigation was conducted appropriately.
Analysis and insight
The Victorian Chamber analysed 12 months of unfair dismissal decisions with the aim of revealing the importance the FWC places on objective and fair investigations.
The analysis showed that where an internal investigation was undertaken before dismissal, 54% of claims were successfully defended. Where an external investigation occurred (noting this applied to a small proportion of cases), there was a 90% employer success rate. Not surprisingly, in instances where the Commission noted a lack of investigation prior to dismissal, an employer’s success rate was less than 20%.
What skills should an investigator have?
To conduct an unbiased investigation, a broad range of skills are needed. These include, but are not limited to:
Legal knowledge and application – a firm grasp of the Australian legal system and how to conduct a procedurally sound investigation.
Lie detection – ability to probe for a complete story when interviewing key personnel.
Analytical skills – objectively consider the allegations and make a sensible decision based on the evidence.
Communication skills – ability to communicate effectively with all parties involved impartially and in a way that effectively uncovers key facts.
Report writing – clearly documented allegations, witness statements and findings ensure a reliable report is provided to decision makers.
How can the Victorian Chamber improve investigations?
Our Workplace Relations consultants have the expertise to handle investigations according to Fair Work principles. We provide commercially focused services that can be customised to your business needs. Our consultants:
- Manage and respond to employee grievances and complaints
- Independently investigate allegations of inappropriate workplace behaviours
- Identify and assess risk of poor workplace environment and incidents
- Recommend actions as a consequence of the findings
- Train managers and team leaders in conducting investigations
- Provide ongoing support to ensure that issues of concern are managed and your risk reduced
When you need support with workplace investigations, speak to our experienced team. Phone the Workplace Relations Advice Line on 03 8662 5222 and ask to speak to our consultants. Alternatively, write to us online.