How to conduct investigations at work

Do you have a situation at work that needs to be addressed, but not sure what steps to take to resolve it? In this blog, we explain how to conduct investigations at work. You’ll find tips on how to prepare and then conduct an investigation meeting at work.

It is important to remember that minor misconduct issues can be dealt with quickly and informally by having a conversation to remind the employee of the standards expected and any improvement required.

Workplace investigation process UK

Workplace investigations do not form part of the disciplinary process. A workplace investigation is an informal meeting designed to establish the facts and gather more information.  If the employer feels there is a case to answer and the findings from the investigation are serious, then the employee would be invited to a disciplinary hearing. The formal disciplinary process would then start.

The investigation process is to:

  • see if there is a case to answer
  • make sure everyone is treated fairly
  • gather evidence from all sides
  • help the employer determine the next steps to take

The employer can halt the formal procedure at any stage or decide that the issue can be resolved informally instead.

How to prepare for an investigation meeting

It is important to have a clear plan prior to the meeting. As an employer, you need to consider the following:

  • what needs to be investigated
  • who is carrying out the investigation
  • who needs to be spoken with (‘witnesses’)
  • sources of evidence (e.g. work records, emails, CCTV recordings)
  • time limits (e.g. CCTV footage being deleted or staff on leave)
  • timeframes
  • policies or workplace guidelines to follow
  • whether the person investigating is expected to give recommendations at the end of the investigation
  • setting out the importance of confidentiality

How to conduct investigations at work

How to conduct an investigation meeting

In a disciplinary or grievance investigation, the person investigating should do their best to:

  1. be fair and objective
  2. follow any policies or guidelines the organisation has
  3. obtain as much information on the case as is reasonable
  4. not try to prove guilt – get balanced evidence from both sides
  5. keep the case confidential

It is important to remember that the person investigating should be finding out if there is an issue that needs to be addressed, not trying to prove guilt.

How long should a workplace investigation take?

An investigation should be completed as quickly as possible, whilst ensuring the process is thorough and fair.

Timescales for investigations can vary depending on whether multiple witnesses need to be spoken to, or there is a large amount of physical evidence to consider.

A simple case might only take a day to gather enough information, whereas a more complicated case could take several weeks.

Your organisation might have timescales for investigations written in their policy. Otherwise, the employer or person investigating should set a reasonable timescale and tell the employee.

If it’s found that more time is needed during the investigation, this should be allowed for. Any delays should be explained to all the parties involved and written in the investigation report.

The person investigating should obtain all the information they reasonably require for the case.

They should work out what physical evidence is needed based on:

  • what is laid out in the investigation plan
  • the sources of information available
  • any time limits (e.g. the deletion of records)

More evidence may come to light as the investigation progresses, so the person investigating should allow for this.

How to conduct investigations at work – Evidence examples

Types of physical evidence could include:

  • emails
  • paperwork
  • receipts
  • computer records
  • phone records
  • CCTV recordings
  • attendance records

In an investigation meeting, there is no legal right to be accompanied. That being said, it is good practice to allow it.

Investigation Recommendations

Unlike a disciplinary hearing there are no ‘sanctions’ that occur after the investigation has been concluded, but there are recommendations as to what happens next. These could be;

  • formal action (e.g. move to a disciplinary hearing)
  • informal action (e.g. extra training or mediation)
  • no further action

If you need further help and advice on how to conduct investigations at work, please get in touch. Blossom HR offer a free 30 minute, no obligation consultation.

Other useful guides;

A guide to suspending an employee

Questioning techniques for a workplace investigation

How to chair an appeal hearing