Any action taken by an employer involving an employee can be scrutinised by way of the affected employee raising a personal grievance, and employment investigations are no exception. If the need for an employment investigation arises, an employer must ensure that the investigation can withstand scrutiny, and that any action resulting from the process was what a reasonable and fair employer would have done in all the circumstances.
When an issue comes to the attention of the employer, he or she should refer to the particular employee’s written employment agreement, and any policy and procedure documents that may set out the process to be followed in an employment investigation. It may be that these documents are silent about process, but, if they do set out a process to be followed, it is important that it is adhered to.
Depending on the nature of the event or incident, an employer may wish to suspend the employee while the investigation is undertaken. If an employer wishes to suspend an employee, the written employment agreement must provide for this. If suspension is contemplated, the employer must obtain the employee’s views regarding suspension before making the decision to suspend the employee.
The next step is to gather the facts of the event or incident. The employer should carefully consider who needs to be spoken to in the course of the investigation. For example, the complainant and employee directly involved in the issue should be spoken to, as well as any others involved.
The employer should gather as much detailed information about the event or incident as possible through direct interviews and other information – eg. emails, photographs or other documentary evidence. Any interviews or discussions with people involved should be carefully noted, as this information is at the very heart of the investigation process and may well form the basis of any future decisions regarding the employment of the employee under investigation.
Ideally, the person who will make the final decision regarding the outcome of the employment investigation should be actively involved in the investigation process. If the final decision maker is not actively involved, that person should satisfy themselves that they are adequately informed of the details of the investigation process to enable them to make a decision.
Once the employment investigation is completed, the employer will need to make a decision about whether the matter needs to be taken further, or whether the employer is satisfied that no further action is required. Whilst conducting a proper investigation may seem onerous and time consuming, the failure to conduct a fair and reasonable process can cost employers dearly.