10 Common Mistakes in Workplace Investigations…and how to avoid them

Workplace investigations have become integral to maintaining a productive and harmonious work environment. However, many organisations inadvertently make critical mistakes during the investigation process that can undermine the effectiveness of their efforts. 

This article explores these common pitfalls while drawing insights from Sean Melbourne, the Executive Director of Source Workplace, who brings over two decades of experience as an employment lawyer to the discussion.

1: Overlooking Alternative Conflict Resolution Methods

Organisations can often do a knee-jerk reaction and start an investigation without considering alternative options for resolving workplace issues. As Melbourne says, “Try and avoid reaching for legal solutions too quickly.” Alternative conflict resolution methods like mediation can often resolve issues more amicably and cost-effectively, preventing unnecessary escalations, strained relationships, and significant costs.

2: Lack of Planning

A well-structured investigation requires careful planning. Without it, confusion and inefficiency can reign. Leaders must establish clear objectives, timelines, and roles for all parties involved. Setting up a conflict resolution framework to create guidelines for addressing issues as they arise and preventing them from festering is essential for any HR department.

3: Having a Delayed Response

Time is of the essence in workplace investigations, especially when it’s serious, such as fraud or sexual misconduct. Procrastinating or delaying an investigation can cause issues to escalate and worsen. Studies also show that some investigations are often not concluded or done unsatisfactorily. We suggest that investigations ideally be concluded within a month, maximum, to prevent undue stress and disruption within the workplace. Learn how to solve complaints within 30 days.

4: Using an Internal Investigator

While using internal resources for investigations can be practical, it can also introduce bias or conflicts of interest. Failing to consider external workplace investigators can compromise the investigation’s integrity. Melbourne emphasises the need for impartiality and objectivity, stating that “external investigators bring objectivity and impartiality to the process, ensuring a fair and unbiased inquiry.”

5: Ignoring Confidentiality

Maintaining confidentiality is paramount during workplace investigations. Breaching the confidentiality of involved parties can discourage witnesses from coming forward and compromise the process’s integrity. Strict confidentiality must be maintained to protect all parties and the investigation’s credibility.

6: Poor Documentation

Inadequate documentation of the investigation process is a critical error. Comprehensive documentation ensures that thorough and organised records are maintained, including interviews, evidence, and findings. This documentation becomes crucial if legal issues arise.

7: Not Adhering to Natural Justice/Procedural Fairness

Failing to follow the principles of natural justice, such as allowing the parties to be heard and providing a fair and unbiased process, can undermine the legitimacy of the investigation. Consider alternatives to investigations, such as facilitation or mediation, to avoid situations where one person feels aggrieved while the other feels righteous. 

8: Neglecting Legal Compliance

Not adhering to employment laws and regulations can result in legal liabilities. Ensure investigations are conducted in compliance with applicable laws, particularly when allegations involve issues like bullying, harassment, or privacy violations.

9: Inadequate Communication

Failing to communicate the progress and outcomes of the investigation to involved parties can lead to confusion, frustration, and distrust among employees. Keeping all stakeholders informed about the process and outcomes within legal constraints is essential for maintaining transparency and trust.

10: Rushing to Conclusions

Jumping to conclusions without gathering all relevant evidence can result in incorrect findings and damage innocent parties’ reputations. Melbourne emphasises the need to “investigate thoroughly before drawing conclusions” to avoid misjudgments and their adverse consequences.

While workplace investigations are necessary in certain situations, avoiding these common mistakes can help organisations navigate the process more effectively and achieve a satisfactory outcome for all parties involved.

Contact me today if you need mediation, facilitation or an external workplace investigator who will handle your situation with care, compassion and impartiality. Call 02 8036 5558 or email: saranne@segalconflictsolutions.com.au