How Do I Know if I Need an External Investigator?

- Tuesday, July 01, 2014

How Do I Know if I Need an External Investigator?

Knowing when to hire an external investigator and when to undertake an internal investigation can be tricky. If you have an employee or group of employees who have been accused of misconduct or suspect that bullying or harassment is taking place in your organisation when is it appropriate to look into the matter yourself and when should you bring in an outside professional?

Whatever you choose to do it’s important that the outcome is fair and reasonable and that the investigation and its findings are compliant with the relevant employment law. If the investigation results in an employee being terminated you could find yourself facing legal action so your ultimate conclusion needs to be able to stand up in court.

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding whether to outsource your workplace investigation or conduct it in-house. Here are a few questions that can help you make the best decision.

Are current HR staff up to date with all relevant employment legislation?

The cornerstone of any workplace investigation needs to come down to whether or not there has been an infringement of the law, particularly in cases of bullying or harassment. Employment legislation is an ever changing field and HR staff in a busy organisation may not have time to keep up to date with every change as it occurs. Unfortunately a lack of updated understanding of the law could lead to significant implications if a decision is made. If an employee is terminated on the findings from an investigation and it later turns out that the termination was unlawful your organisation could face serious legal consequences.

Can internal staff perform an unbiased investigation?

Having personal knowledge of the parties involved can make it difficult for even the most professional of HR staff to conduct a thoroughly impartial investigation. Current employees may not feel comfortable talking openly to people they know, especially if they feel that there is already existing prejudice against them. In a larger organisation this may not be as big an issue as a small business where everyone knows each other, but it is worth taking into consideration when making a decision. Employees who feel they haven’t been treated fairly are more likely to complain or challenge the outcome and this could lead to further problems in the future.

How will an internal investigation be viewed by employees and the public?

If the allegations of misconduct and bullying involve senior management an internal investigation, especially if it finds in the senior employee’s favour, could be seen by employees and the public as biased and unfair. In some cases it could be beneficial to ensure that there are no grounds for employees to claim unjust treatment or have grounds to claim a cover up by hiring someone external who can be seen to be completely impartial. This can be particularly useful in the case of public sector or large organisations whose reputation could be damaged by accusations of partiality.

Deciding whether to use an external investigator or conduct an internal investigation will depend on a number of factors along with the scale and severity of the alleged harassment or misconduct. It’s essential that whatever you choose, your investigation is conducted in a professional and unbiased manner and any resulting action is compliant with employment legislation or you could find yourself facing further issues in the future.

Not sure whether or not you need an external investigator? Give us a call today for a confidential, no obligation discussion of your situation.

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