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You might be thinking about using an external provider to carry out an investigation into an employment issue that has arisen. This might be because your internal resource doesn’t have enough time, or perhaps they have been involved in the issues that need to be investigated.

Alternatively, you might not have anyone in your organisation who has the skillset to carry out the investigation if the issues are complex.

The organisations that call us in typically have a dispute that needs to be resolved. At Narrow Quay HR, we help organisations get to the root of workplace disputes by conducting complex and sensitive investigations on their behalf. We cover areas such as disciplinary allegations, employee grievances, bullying and harassment, allegations of discrimination, whistle-blowing, employee fraud, and breakdowns in trust and confidence at board level.

So What Do We Do When You Instruct Us?

The first step is for us to let you know how much we think it is going to cost. We generally tend to charge per day so once we’ve taken some initial information from you we will let you know how many days we think it will take us to conduct the investigation and provide you with an investigation report. We’ll break it down so you can see what’s involved and how the time will be spent.

Once you’ve given us the go ahead, we’ll work with you to prepare the Terms of Reference. These set out the areas that we are asked to look into. It is often the case that our clients will take legal advice about the Terms of Reference. Preparing the Terms of Reference is an important stage because it tells us what we are investigating, and sometimes what we are specifically not being asked to investigate.

For instance, sometimes an employee may have raised a previous grievance or there may have been a previous disciplinary or capability matter they were not happy about. The employer will therefore not want us to deal with that because it has already been looked into. It is sometimes the case that during the investigation other matters crop up and we will always go back to the client to establish whether they want us to also investigate those matters.

What is also usually included in the Terms of Reference is the list of the people that we have been asked to interview. We’ll look at how we carry out the interviews below but in terms of interviewees, again this is sometimes something that changes during the investigation.

I recently interviewed someone who was accused of bullying. When I interviewed them they and their union representative named 15 additional people they said I needed to interview. When that happens, we need to take a view about the best approach to take. We need to be proportionate in how we proceed, we need to weigh up the relevance of the evidence to the matters we have been asked to investigate. We also need to consider questions like ‘are we likely to get several people telling us the same thing?’ We also need to think about the effect that carrying out any additional interviews will have on the time the investigation will take.

So, We Have Received the Terms of Reference, What Next?

We will usually be sent the relevant documents, so for example in the case of an investigation into a grievance we will be sent the grievance letter and the supporting documents. It’s also important for us to review the policy under which we are carrying out the investigation. This document will for instance say whether people can be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative in the investigation. The basic position is that there is no right to be accompanied at an investigation meeting but sometimes, particularly with public sector employers, there is that right included in their policy.

Having read the background documents and policies, we will then set up the interviews. When dealing with a grievance, we will try to interview the complainant first as it is important to fully understand the nature of the complaint or dispute. Experience says that the complainant tends to expand on what is included in the initial documents.

When we do the interviews, we don’t tend to record them. We take notes of the interview and after the interview send them to the interviewee to check, amend and approve. It’s often the case that the people we interview will send us further documents, which we will consider and add to the documentary evidence.

When we have interviewed everyone, we will then prepare our investigation report. We will set out the key elements of the Terms of Reference, the process we followed, then analyse the evidence we have received and set out our findings, conclusions. If we have been asked to do so then we also set out our recommendations. We will add as appendices to the report the notes of the interviews we have carried out and the documentary evidence we have collected.

It’s important to remind ourselves what our role is in investigations – we are fact gathering. We don’t make any decisions, although we may make recommendations.

What Does That Mean?

In a disciplinary matter, our role is to gather all the evidence and then at most we would recommend whether, based on the evidence we have seen, that we think it would merit being heard in a disciplinary hearing. We will never make recommendations about the level of warning for instance as that would be to overstep our remit.

Our approach is to take a balanced, objective approach and set out our thought processes, refer to the key evidence and then how we have arrived at our findings and conclusions which we arrived at on the balance of probabilities.

At Narrow Quay HR, we are all former employment lawyers with over 70 years’ experience between us. We understand how employment law requires investigations to be carried out properly and that informs our approach. I have acted for a number of employers over the years in Employment Tribunals and have been doing the advocacy when Employment Judges have spent a lot of time dissecting the investigations that were carried out. I have used that experience to inform my approach when conducting the investigation.

Our aim is to make our reports speak for themselves, so that the key evidence is referred to and our findings, conclusions and recommendations are clear. What that means is that it is very unusual for us to need to attend any subsequent grievance or disciplinary hearing for example.

I hope that gives you an idea of what we do and how we do it. Of course if you need any more details please contact Simon Martin on 07384 813 076, Sarah Martin on 07799 136091, or Caitlin Anniss on 07909 683938.

We consider the challenges of carrying out a workplace investigation remotely during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In our podcast, we discuss:

  • Planning for a virtual workplace investigation
  • Practical steps to consider 
  • What to do if an employee refuses to participate
  • Can furloughed staff participate?

How Can We Help?

Our specialist HR consultants can help your organisation by:

  • providing support with your day to day HR issues
  • auditing your HR policies and procedure to identify problems and suggest improvements
  • training for your staff
  • practical support with consultations and other HR projects
  • carrying out investigations into grievances, disciplinaries and other matters

Related Resources

If you require specialist legal advice relating to carrying out workplace investigations remotely, please contact HR Consultants Caitlin Anniss on 07909 683938 or Sarah Martin on 07799 136091.

Employee investigations and hearings are a regular challenge for HR professionals in the public sector.

These activities form a core element of our HR Consultancy practice.

To begin we ensure we focus on our client as an individual, because whatever the size of the organisation, the needs for HR support are always best initially served at personal level. We combine our expertise, genuine teamwork and client commitment into a blend of services that set us apart, and this is why we’re confident that we always deliver the most effective HR support to our public sector clients.

Investigations into complex grievances or disciplinary matters are invariably time consuming and take key people away from their core responsibilities. This is where we can step in and conduct investigation work, sensitively and efficiently.

We carry out investigations, interview witnesses, gather evidence and prepare investigation reports, attending resulting disciplinary and grievance hearings as the investigating officer, as the need arises.

If our clients have resourced the investigation in house, we can provide support with other stages of the process. We can provide on-site HR support and guidance to panels hearing grievance, disciplinary or capability issues. If it’s appropriate we can also act as a panel member, if this is needed because of the nature of the particular case.

It is important to understand ACAS guidance in carrying out investigations as these suggest that independent representation and involvement is important:

“Key points

  • An investigation is a fact-finding exercise to collect all the relevant information on a matter.
  • An investigator should be given clear guidance on what exactly they are required to investigate, and how their findings should be reported.
  • Whenever possible the investigator should not be involved in the issue being investigated.
  • The investigator should gather and document what the issues of the matter are, consider what evidence may be available and relevant, and how it may be collected.”

Creative, pragmatic and professional are the words we’d use to describe our style. If this resonates and you have a current or upcoming challenge that would benefit from impartial, professional HR support, please get in touch.