The process of investigating complaints

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By ensuring a fair investigative process, those investigating can help build morale and trust among employees. On the other hand, a poorly conducted internal investigation can cost an employer financially and damage its reputation, not to mention the reputations of the persons involved in the investigation. Therefore conducting a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation is critical to mitigate against future risks.

Conducting workplace investigations is very challenging as often those investigating may not be properly trained or often feel under pressure to resolve complaints too hastily. Conversely employees are often very aware of their rights and fair procedures.

Linked to this awareness there are a myriad of employment laws that regulate how investigations should occur to include Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977-2007, Code of Practice on Disciplinary procedures 1996, Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment at Work 2012 under the Equality Acts 1998-2011, Health and Safety Authority 2007 Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work.

The following are 10 steps for handling a complaint that could be followed if an employer is faced with a complaint it needs to investigate:

10 step complaints handling process:

  1. Plan and prepare gathering factual and documental evidence (decide who will investigate, who and what will be investigated, what evidence needs to be gathered, etc.)
  2. Communicate clearly and promptly – do not ignore any complaint/complainant
  3. Confidentiality is critical, and only with the parties involved
  4. Ensure objectivity and impartiality
  5. Be attentive during interviews and allow no distractions
  6. Ask open probing interview questions
  7. Investigate thoroughly and data record appropriately
  8. Do not make assumptions; act fairly and proportionately
  9. Document factual findings within a written report *
  10. Follow-up with those involved

A well-written investigative report* can help minimise liability risks. Such a report should include:

  • The matter being investigated with date(s)
  • The people involved
  • Applicable employer policies or guidelines
  • Key factual findings and credibility determination
  • Summaries of witness statements
  • Specific findings and conclusions
  • Issues that could not be determined/resolved
  • Employer actions taken
  • The name of the investigator.

Once a written report is submitted to the decision-maker (who is not the investigator), they will determine what, if any, disciplinary action will occur. Typically the decision-maker will:

  • Notify the employee who made the complaint that action was taken
  • Re-integrate the employee(s) involved back into the workplace, shifting focus from the complaint to the changes the investigation has brought about
  • Where applicable, remind employee(s) that retaliation will not be tolerated, and check back within three months to ensure that there has been none
  • Review the investigation to determine what could be done better the next time, should there be a next time
  • Look for patterns in complaints that might suggest more training is needed to avoid similar problems in the future
  • While every complaint is unique, having a well-defined, consistent procedure in place can ward off future complaints.

© CA Compliance Limited 2016

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