How Can HR Support Staff During a Workplace Investigation?

- Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Where a complaint has been made by one staff member against another, and a workplace investigation takes place, all kinds of emotions can be running high. 

People participating in a workplace investigation, whether as complainants, respondents or even witnesses, can suffer symptoms of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as emotional distress. 

Respondents in particular can feel abandoned and cold-shouldered, especially in cases where HR departments decide to take a 'hands-off' approach while the investigation is being conducted. If a respondent is also suspended from work during the process, they may also feel prejudged and already declared guilty. 

In light of this, it's extremely important that employers ensure that investigations are handled fairly and impartially, and that all participants are supported. 

Here's how HR can help support participants throughout a workplace investigation.

THROUGH TRANSPARENCY AND COMMUNICATION

First and foremost, effective communication and transparency are vital from the outset. A failure to communicate can worsen distress and lead to participants thinking the worst. 

Decide on being transparent from the beginning. This involves taking the complaint seriously, listening to all sides, and making sure all participants know how the complaint will be handled. It's also important to check back that they have understood what was said and address any misunderstandings (something that can easily happen when emotions and tensions are high!)   

SETTING OUT THE PROCESS

It's important to get to work quickly, appoint an investigator, and make decisions regarding the scope of the investigation, the timeframe, and actions to be taken after completion. However, do be prepared for the process possibly taking longer than anticipated. 

Once you've decided on the process, make sure to keep everyone informed of how the investigation will be conducted and what they can expect, and aim to keep communication lines open throughout. Also reassure the respondent that they are not in any way being prejudged, even if they have been suspended for a time during the investigation. 

APPOINTING A SUPPORT PERSON

Participants need to know they have someone to go to for emotional support, who can also explain the process and answer any questions they may have. 

One thing to note here is that employees may not necessarily show their emotions at work and this could lead you to think they are fine and don't need assistance, when in fact the opposite is true. 

Appoint a support person whose role it is to regularly check up on the person and provide support without taking sides. 

CONDUCTING INTERVIEWS WITH RESPECT 

Interviews need to be conducted fairly and withe respect and non-partiality. 

It's important to avoid acting like an interrogator; your job is to uncover the facts and truth of the matter and not to extract a 'confession'. This means all participants should be treated with respect and empathy, and given breaks during interviews if required. 

OFFERING POST-INVESTIGATION SUPPORT

An investigation can affect everyone and can reduce morale and trust in a workplace. It may in some cases even lead to employees seeking work elsewhere after feeling demoralised by the whole experience. 

In a case where the respondent has been restored to duty, it may be hard for them to simply go back to 'business as usual'. The same may also apply to complainers, particularly if the investigation did not go the way they wanted. 

Be prepared for it to take some time for trust and morale to be restored, and offer mentoring and support after the process to anyone who needs it. Be proactive in rebuilding trust and positive relationships. 

Lastly, we can provide expert assistance with workplace investigations. Feel free to contact us for more information.  

Handling a Paranoid Response to Workplace Investigations

- Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In conducting workplace investigations, both the alleged victim and perpetrator and potentially even witnesses may have an intensely personal reaction to the accusations. But what happens if one of the people involved in a workplace investigation has a mental illness or otherwise suffers from poor mental health? 

In this situation, a workplace investigation can be perceived as a direct personal attack - for example, a complainant may feel that the mere fact of an investigation means that they are not taken seriously or believed in their allegations. A respondent to a complaint may feel vilified or victimised by having to respond to the claims at all. In these circumstances, it could be easy for paranoia to creep in during the investigative process. 

So what additional steps should a prudent employer take during the investigative process when dealing with an employee who struggles with their mental health? 

POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES OF FAILING TO CONSIDER MENTAL HEALTH

The State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report, released by TNS Australia and Beyond Blue, has found that 45% of all adult Australians will experience a mental health condition at one point in their lives. In addition, untreated mental illness costs Australian Workplaces almost $11 billion annually.  

This financial cost (calculated on the basis of absentee figures, 'presenteeism' where employees are physically present but not performing to their maximum capabilities, and compensation claims) is reason enough to take mental health in the workplace seriously, and to ensure that workplace investigations do not run roughshod over the rights of employees with mental health concerns. 

However, even more concerning is the potential for a poorly handled workplace investigation to exacerbate an employee's mental illness or even to cause a new psychological injury. 

It is crucial for employers to ensure that workplace investigations are conducted sensitively and have regard to any disclosed or hidden mental health issues suffered by employees. This is particularly the case given that it is an employer's legal obligation to ensure that workplaces are free from conduct which could reasonably be foreseen to cause injury, including psychological injury, to employees. A failure to do so can leave the employer exposed to a compensation claim.  

WHAT SHOULD AN EMPLOYER'S RESPONSE BE?

Employers must ensure that investigators don't dismiss signs of paranoia as an employee being 'silly' or simply difficult. 

It's important to recognise that the employee does genuinely feel under threat, without agreeing with them, and to lay out any evidence clearly. 

It can also be helpful to detail how the investigation will proceed to avoid the risk of misunderstandings, for example an employee deciding that more than a week has passed therefore an adverse finding must have been made against them. 

Honesty and fairness are key in any workplace investigation, but it is particularly important to demonstrate both when dealing with an employee who is feeling under attack. It's essential to remain patient, and work on building trust and rapport in interviews.  

Employees should also be able to access a support person of their choice to participate in any interviews or other formal steps of the investigation. 

Being available and following through on any actions that have been decided on, however minor, may also help lower a fearful employee's anxiety. 

If the initial complaint has caused or substantially contributed to an employee's poor mental health, and this has resulted in the employee receiving a medical certificate, an employer should consider not permitting the employee to return to work until the investigation has been resolved. Any decision along those lines should be made strictly in consultation with the employee's medical team and the employee themselves.  

    HOW WE CAN HELP

    Taking these simple steps will help to ensure that your staff do not feel victimised and do not become unduly paranoid or concerned about the investigative process and potential outcomes.  

    At WISE Workplace, we can help you navigate your way through the potential minefield of workplace investigations. We offer full investigation services if you prefer to outsource, and also training to assist you in running your own investigations.

    When the Line Blurs: Restrictive Practices vs Assault

    - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

    It is well-known that certain industries, particularly those involving disability or aged care services, have a higher than average level of client-facing risk. This is in part because consumers of these services generally have higher levels of physical needs, and may also have difficulties expressing themselves clearly or consistently.  

    As a result of these unique care requirements, occasionally situations may arise where restrictive practices are necessary either for the client's own safety or to protect another person. 

    However, employers and care workers must ensure that their actions do not exceed reasonable restrictive practices and slip into behaviours or acts, which could be considered assault.   

    WHAT ARE RESTRICTIVE PRACTICES?

    According to the Australian Law Reform Commission, the definition of 'restrictive practices' are actions which effectively restrict the rights or freedom of movement of a person with a disability.

    This could include physical restraint (such as holding somebody down), mechanical restraint (for example, with the use of a device intendend to restrict, prevent or subdue movement), chemical restraint (using sedative drugs), or social restraint (verbal interactions or threats of sanctions). 

    Restrictive practices are intended to used in situations where a person is demonstrating concerning, or potentially threatening behaviours. In the disability services context, this may involve people with significant intellectual or psychological impairments, but no or limited physical impairments, meaning that threats of violence could be credible and have significant effects.

    Although restrictive practices are currently legal in Australia, according to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) factsheet, they do not currently constitute 'best practice' for disability support.

    KEY CONCERNS WITH RESTRICTIVE PRACTICES

    As with any situation where the personal liberty of people is affected, the use of restrictive practices can blur into the use of inappropriate levels of force and potentially even expose the disability worker to accusations of assault. 

    While the greatest concern with restrictive practices would be the possibility of disabled persons being intentionally abused, it is very easy for the line between restrictive practices to be unintentionally blurred. 

    Although assault is defined slightly differently in each Australian state and territory under criminal law legislation, broadly, the offence involves circumstances where intentional and unwanted physical force or contact is used against another person. It can also include verbal behaviours, which are considered threatening. 

    While the line between the use of restrictive practices and assault may not be immediately clear, conduct is unlikely to be considered to be an assault if it can be demonstrated that the actions taken, even if they involved the use of physical force, were necessary to avoid violence or any risk of harm.

      WHAT IF AN ALLEGATION OF ASSAULT DOES ARISE?

      The provision of disability services is a challenging industry at the best of times. It's important to ensure that your team is using restrictive practices appropriately and in the right circumstances to avoid any allegations of assault. 

      Any employers who are advised of accusations of assault must undertake a full workplace investigation in order to fulfil their dual obligations to their employees and to their clients. 

      At WISE Workplace, we have experience in the disability and aged care sectors, and our team can assist in all aspects of workplace investigations.   

      ACT Launches Reportable Conduct Scheme

      - Wednesday, June 07, 2017

      If there's one thing that's been made clear from the recent Royal Commission, it's that the protection of children and the reporting procedures around child abuse need to be improved. 

      In August 2016, largely in response to the commission, the ACT Government passed legislation designed to cast a 'wider net' when it comes to the scrutiny of child abuse and the protection of children within certain organisations.

      The ACT Reportable Conduct Scheme will take effect from July 1 2017. The scheme is designed to ensure that there are processes in place for allegations of employee abuse of children, and that these allegations are independently reviewed. 

      In essence, it provides a mechanism for employers to report employee misconduct in relation to children, with the ACT Ombudsman acting in the role of independent oversight body.   

      WHICH EMPLOYERS DOES THIS APPLY TO?

      Certain types of employers that work with children will be covered under the scheme, including health service providers, foster care and out-of-home services, residential care providers, schools and educational services. 

      In general, religious organisations (other than schools), instructional services (such as teachers of sports and music), scouts/guides and universities will not be included under the scheme. 

      The term 'employee' in this instance refers not only to workers but also to contractors and volunteers within the relevant organisation, whether or not they work directly with children. This means conduct may be reported even if it is of a personal and non-professional nature.  

      WHAT ABOUT OTHER REPORTING PROCESSES? 

      It's important to be aware that the scheme will not override other reporting obligations - such as that of suspected crime to the police, or mandatory reporting of serious abuse or neglect of children to the Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS). However, it does cover a wider range of behaviours in relation to children, and also provides a mechanism for employers to report conduct not covered under other mandatory reporting programs. 

      WHAT EMPLOYERS NEED TO DO

      ACT employers covered by the scheme will need to notify the Ombudsman within 30 days of suspected or actual misconduct by an employee in relation to children. These acts of misconduct include neglect, mistreatment, psychological harm, sexual misconduct or inappropriate discipline. 

      Employers will also need to:  

      • Perform investigations into alleged reportable conduct and provide a written report to the Ombudsman. 
      • Report to other bodies as required - including the police, the human rights commission, CYPS and others. 
      • Review and amend their organisational policies and procedures where necessary.
      • Inform and educate employees regarding any new or amended policies and responsibilities. 

      THE OMBUDSMAN'S ROLE

      The scheme is designed to go beyond just reporting misconduct. For instance, the Ombudsman's role in regard to this is also to monitor and analyse trends, share information with other authorities as required, provide guidance to organisations regarding child protection, and monitor the practices of employers in relation to child safety and prevention of abuse.

      WHERE TO FROM HERE?

      WISE Workplace provides independent investigation services for organisations into reportable conduct, and training on how to respond and investigate allegations. 

      Her Word Against His – Detecting Lies in Interviews

      - Wednesday, May 17, 2017

      One of the most challenging aspects for employers attempting to deal with workplace bullying or misconduct is getting to the truth of allegations, especially in circumstances where the apparent victim's version of events contradicts that of the alleged bully.

      Most of the time, this disparity can be put down to differences of opinion or misinterpretation of intentions.

      For example, the accused bully may have simply felt that they were performance-managing their subordinate, whereas the victim may have felt denigrated and abused. A purported victim may consider themselves to be the target of sexual harassment, while the accused bully may have simply wanted to ask them out for a friendly coffee.

      But occasionally, for whatever reason, apparent victims of bullying tell lies in the interview process and make false accusations of bullying. This could be because they dislike the alleged bully, believe the "bully" should be dealt with by management or simply because they have embellished their story and feel that they need to stick with it now that a complaint has been made.

      Regardless of the myriad reasons why a victim may lie during an investigative interview, how should this be dealt with by an employer?

      GUARDING AGAINST BIAS

      Although it is natural to sympathise with a purported victim, and perhaps unconsciously believe their version of events over that put forward by the alleged perpetrator, the most important function of a workplace investigator is to establish the truth surrounding the allegations.

      It is therefore imperative that any preferential bias in favour of the apparent victim is removed. If you do not feel that you can adequately perform an interview without such bias, whether because of your relationship with the victim/bully or because you can personally relate to the allegations of bullying, ensure that another person is tasked with conducting the interviews.

      PICKING UP VERBAL AND NON-VERBAL CUES

      Once the claimed victim is participating in the interview process, ensure that you are observing any cues which may indicate that they are not telling the truth. These could include:

      • Overly elaborate stories and excessive irrelevant detail, suggesting an invented story,
      • Gestures and words not matching each other in context, implying that the words have been rehearsed.
      • Whether the story makes sense – is it even plausible that the allegations being made against the bully could be true?
      • A lack of consistency – is the interviewee telling the same story each time or are details changing?

      Of course, these can be subjective indicators. It is important to tread carefully when deciding whether a victim is lying about their version of events: making an unfounded and inaccurate accusation can cause even greater distress to an innocent victim.

      In this regard it can be helpful to have another person sit in on the interview with you, so that they can provide their own opinion on whether the version of events being provided is accurate, and temper your initial reactions.

      THE NEED FOR CORROBORATING EVIDENCE

      Once the alleged victim has provided their version of events and it is apparent that this contradicts that of the claimed bully, it is essential to seek corroborating evidence to either prove or disprove the victim's story.

      In addition to speaking with third party witnesses, such as other staff members at work at the time of the alleged incident, this could include evidence such as reviewing CCTV footage, checking personnel files for prior complaints or even performing basic checks such as making sure that both employees involved in the complaint were even working together at the relevant time.

      Conducting a workplace investigation is a complex task, often requiring specialist knowledge and experience. WISE Workplace can assist with conducting interviews if you wish to safeguard the investigation process by avoiding any allegations of bias or favouritism, or are otherwise concerned that the interviewee may not give the full version of events. Please feel free to contact us for more information.

      Child Sexual Exploitation & Trafficking Conference Insights

      - Wednesday, May 10, 2017

      A wrap-up of the Children, Justice and Communication Conference at Portsmouth University, May 2017.  Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Children, Justice and Communication Conference at Portsmouth in the UK.  The conference is hosted by some of the world’s leading academics and practitioners working in the areas of child sexual exploitation, trafficking, child abuse, incest and more.  

      Opened by Professor Ray Bull, the conference featured the work of Professor Becky Milne, Dr Julie Cherryman, Dr Lucy Akehurst and Professor Penny Cooper to name but a few. 

      The audience, mostly police officers from the UK, represent those forward-thinking agencies and officers who want to make a change for the good and tackle some of the most challenging crimes. The number of police officers with higher research degrees is particularly impressive, and is having a massive impact on the quality of policing not only in Britain, but around the world.

      Tackling challenging issues across the globe

      Some of the issues covered on the first day included the conundrum of obtaining evidence from teenagers who have been exploited and trafficked but consider their actions to be consensual and complicit in the activities. How do we empower these individuals to become witnesses rather than to take on the persona of victim? 


      Dr Brian Chappel, a senior police intelligence expert, spoke of the use of juveniles as critical intelligence sources necessary to infiltrate youth gangs. Interestingly, his research showed that the 10 informants who participated in his study were themselves free from any police intervention up to a year later. 


      Dr Shaleve-Greene addressed the issues for agencies in handling or identifying the 10,000 unaccompanied migrant minors that go missing across Europe every year. This was another statistic to get my head around – this number reflects only those we know about who are missing and vulnerable to traffickers and exploitation. There are also tremendous challenges to local safeguarding children boards, such as the one operating in Kent on the south coast of Britain. 


      Dr Sue Gower spoke about the services and educational needs of their staff when they take on responsibility for the children from their own county, a similar number from neighbouring counties, and then double the number to account for the unaccompanied immigrant minors arriving from Europe. 

      How intermediaries are working successfully overseas

      Professor Penny Cooper hosted a panel of experts who presented on a range of issues connected to the use of intermediaries who support and assist children and vulnerable adults to communicate with police, and courts. 


      The NSW Department of Justice is currently trialling the use of intermediaries, so it was great to hear the many ingenious and fantastic ways these experts have of working with children to help them communicate. Convictions have been secured with the use of evidence from children as young as three-years-old. These presentations also addressed the increasingly common needs of children with autism spectrum disorder. 


      As practitioners, it’s so important to stick our heads above the partition wall and have a look at the fantastic work going on around the world. 


      WISE Workplace offers consulting and investigation services to assist and support workplaces in conducting fair and efficient investigations and developing comprehensive complaints processes.

      Contact one of our offices to talk to an advisor about a free consultation.

      So You've Been Accused of Bullying - What Now?

      Vince Scopelliti - Wednesday, May 03, 2017

      The issue of workplace bullying is much more openly discussed these days, and most employees are aware that they can make a formal complaint to their employers and have the matter investigated – with appropriate resolution to follow.

      But what happens if you are not the victim, but instead have been accused of being the bully?

      HOW TO DEAL WITH AN OVERWHELMING EXPERIENCE

      Being accused of bullying is never pleasant. It can create a number of confusing feelings, including concerns about your job security, a sense of lost control over your workplace and working experience, and frustration or even anger towards your accuser.

      This can particularly be the case if you dispute that the alleged behaviour occurred or took place as claimed, and feel that you have been wrongly accused.

      In some circumstances, those accused of workplace bullying may even develop feelings of depression or anxiety.

      But there are strategies which you can employ to stay focused and keep your emotions under control while the investigation process is underway.

      These include:

      • Remembering that the accusation is only an allegation and does not mean that anything has or will be proven against you.

      • Understanding that there is an investigation process which needs to be followed to ensure fairness is afforded to both parties. Your organisation will need to investigate the allegations and talk to staff before they get your side of the story.

      • Avoiding interfering in the investigation, as this will risk a finding of bias and will only extend the process.

      YOUR RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

      As the alleged perpetrator of the workplace bullying, you are entitled to be advised of what the allegations made against you are, although you cannot be provided with a copy of the initial letter of complaint.

      This is to ensure that the complainant maintains some privacy and avoids potential further harassment. Once you have been advised of the complaint and the details of the allegation, it is a good idea to make a written record of your version of events.

      You have the right to participate in an interview and, if you take up this right, it is important to calmly address the facts and provide a rational, not emotional, response to the allegations.

      You are also entitled to request that you have a support person to sit in on interviews and provide you with moral support throughout the investigation process.

      The key thing to remember is that you have the right to an unbiased investigation. If you genuinely believe that the investigator or somebody with the power to make the final determination is prejudiced against you or otherwise has a conflict of interest, you should set out your concerns, preferably in writing, and request that another person becomes involved in the process.

      If you continue to feel that the process is tainted by bias, you can contact the Fair Work Commission's Help Line or obtain independent legal or consulting advice to ensure that your rights are protected.

      By the same token, you should avoid discussing the complaint at all with co-workers or decision-makers, and certainly should not engage in discussions with the complainant under any circumstances. Any attempt to do so may be perceived as an attempt to influence witnesses or otherwise interfere with the investigation.

      REMEMBER THAT THE INVESTIGATION CAN TAKE TIME

      It's important to be aware that the workplace investigation process can be lengthy, and more serious allegations of bullying might take six or more weeks to investigate. Factors such as the victim (or you) going on stress leave or annual leave can also affect the timeframe of the investigation.

      Although it is certainly justifiable to feel stressed, and you should seek support if you feel unwell, going on medical leave in response to the complaint will only prolong the investigation. Your health is likely to be better served in the long-term by assisting in the process, enabling a quicker resolution.

      Being accused of workplace bullying and the subsequent investigation process can be an upsetting experience. If your organisations needs assistance in how to respond to bullying allegations to ensure procedural fairness for all parties, we can provide you with advice on the investigation process. Feel free to contact us here.

      Witness Statements Protected in Australia Post FOI Bid

      - Wednesday, April 26, 2017


      A recent decision of the Australian Information Commissioner has confirmed that certain categories of internal documents cannot generally be forced to be the subject of a disclosure process.

      The decision, which was handed down by Commissioner Tim Pilgrim on April 5, 2017, arose from a refusal by Australia Post to produce documents to a former employee, identified for the purpose of the proceedings as "LC".

      LC had complained to his former employer that he had heard two managers making "derogatory comments" about him, and reported that he had heard from an HR officer that the managers would be disciplined for their actions. Accordingly, LC issued a Freedom of Information (FOI) request seeking documents pertaining to Australia Post's investigations, with a view to identifying what disciplinary action would be taken.

      aUSTRALIA POST CLAIMS DOCUMENTS EXEMPT

      However, the requested documents were not produced by Australia Post, which claimed that the materials were exempt from production under sections 47E(c) and 47F of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth).

      Section 47E(c) of the Act provides that documents are not required to be produced if they would or could "have a substantial adverse effect on the management or assessment of personnel by the Commonwealth or by an agency". Meanwhile, section 47F states that documents need not be produced if they would unreasonably reveal personal information about any person, including a deceased person.

      LC requested a review of the FOI decision. However, Commissioner Pilgrim agreed with Australia Post's refusal to produce the documents, in accordance with the "management functions" exemption set out in section 47E(c).

      RELEASE OF DOCUMENTS WOULD 'IMPEDE INVESTIGATIONS'

      In these circumstances, the documents related to both managing and assessing personnel because they related to complaints by employees and associated disciplinary proceedings.

      Specifically, Commissioner Pilgrim found that documents including witness statements and counselling or disciplinary action documents directly related to the management functions of an organisation, and accordingly could "reasonably be expected to have a substantial adverse effect" on those functions.

      In particular, Commissioner Pilgrim concluded that permitting the release of these documents would impede the proper progress of investigations, because there was a very reasonable prospect that it would put people off making complaints or providing honest witness statements during enquiries, particularly over concerns of "backlash" from co-workers and supervisors or senior employees.

      Having regard to the nature of Australia Post's business, Commissioner Pilgrim also found that public interest dictated that Australia Post and other government organisations should be able to protect the integrity of their code of conduct complaint processes.

      THE WIDER IMPACT ON WORKPLACE INVESTIGATIONS

      The recent decision in LC and Australia Post highlights the importance of employers being able to maintain the integrity, privacy and confidentiality of their internal disciplinary processes. In particular, witnesses and complainants can be reassured that anything they divulge and which is recorded during the provision of interviews cannot be easily disclosed on the basis of FOI requests.

      Make sure that your internal documentation and disciplinary processes are protected, private and accurate. The majority of unfair dismissal claims are due to lack of process and procedural fairness. Fix the process and reduce time and money spent in court with the Workplace Investigation Tool Kit. You can find more information about it here

      A Perplexing Problem: Protecting Children Overseas

      - Thursday, April 20, 2017


      Every year billions of Australian dollars are provided to fund aid projects overseas. The money is targeted to assist developing countries with education, housing, health and community projects. Naturally children are a prime target group for these aid programs.  The majority of these organisations are funded by the Australian public via donations and government funding provided to not-for-profit organisations, many of them faith based organisations.

      International rules and expectations govern the protocols for handling and responding to allegations related to child protection, however, enforcing these laws is a tricky business often involving multiple jurisdictions and multiple agencies who may disagree around responsibilities and liabilities.

      Policies and procedures are not enough to protect children who are by definition amongst the most vulnerable in the world.

      Small operations, voluntary management and high dependency on the goodwill of front end service delivery mitigate against strong child protection regimes. Poor oversight due to long distance, remoteness and cultural differences are also key features of this problem.

      Funding bodies in Australia are expected to have high quality child protection systems and policies in place to gain government funding but the challenge of enforcing or even providing adequate training in the expectations to the end providers of the service can be beyond reach.

      Now that we know that we cannot unquestioningly depend on the nature of goodly people to act without harming children, what cost do we place on the need to provide secure safe environments for children receiving charitable services?

      Documents provided to the Guardian relating to the level of abuse within detention centres on Nauru demonstrate the abject failure of outsourced government funded programs. How then do we expect small voluntary projects to be faring against these standards?

      It is clear that policies and procedures are woefully inadequate yet how much of the donated money do we want spent on compliance when it comes to protecting children?

      WISE Workplace is regularly requested to undertake investigations of allegations made against staff overseas who are working or administering charitable projects. The work requires a high level understanding of the environment, the agency, funding requirements, boards and community management structures, and the local culture and cultural background of staff and service recipients. The work remains some of the most challenging to investigate. Weak employment relationships can lead to inconclusive outcomes and an inability to enforce any restrictions on volunteers in the field.

      For those organisations with managers in Australia trying to manage complaints or allegations arising from activities overseas, using the support of experienced investigators can be a godsend melding the investigative skills of experienced child protection investigators with the cultural and service delivery expertise of the coordinators working for the agency.

      Our top 10 list of must do’s if you are a coordinator of a charity funded project overseas:

      1. Nominate a single contact person with responsibility for dealing with complaints related to child protection within your agency

      2. Have clearly articulated Child Protection Standards and Guidelines

      3. Have clearly articulated procedures for dealing with complaints

      4. Understand the criminal law in the country of service delivery

      5. Understand the employee relationship between the funding body and the service providers on the ground

      6. Know your legal obligations under your primary funding agency agreement

      7. Respond quickly to complaints

      8. Conduct a risk assessment and take protective action if necessary

      9. Identify a suitable contact person on the ground in the foreign country to be a liaison pain

      10. Seek specialist help when complaints are serious or complex to investigate.

      WISE Workplace runs regular training programs on the principles of undertaking workplace investigations. Our facilitators have extensive experience and expertise in managing all kinds of challenging investigations including running operations overseas via Skype using local contacts. Our unique Investigating Abuse in Care course provides valuable skills in how to assess complaints, reporting obligations, drafting allegations, interviewing victims and respondents, making decisions and maintaining procedural fairness. Book now for courses in May 2017.

      Building Rapport in Investigative Interviews

      - Wednesday, April 12, 2017


      All workplaces are at risk of allegations of bullying, harassment, discrimination or other claims of misconduct or inappropriate dealings. As such, all employers must be prepared to conduct investigative interviews to determine the veracity and accuracy of any allegations made against or by one or more of their employees.

      Apart from properly eliciting the facts, perhaps the most important thing in conducting such interviews is ensuring that there is sufficient rapport between the interviewer and the interviewee. This connection can result in more information being obtained from the interviewee, and also help ensure that more truthful answers are provided.

      So what are our top tips on achieving this?

      1. TAILOR YOUR APPROACH

      There is no "one size fits all" approach when it comes to building rapport in investigative interviews, it's about tailoring the approach to suit the particular circumstances and the interviewee.

      For example, there is probably little point running through a standard set of formal questions when interviewing children. Similarly, an employee who claims to be the victim of workplace bullying is unlikely to want to make idle small talk about how the company's netball team is faring in the local comp.

      2. ASK QUESTIONS IN THE RIGHT WAY

      It is crucial that interviewers are competent and know which questioning techniques to use in which situation in order to put the interviewee at ease and obtain quality information.

      For example, taking the interviewee back in time to when the incident occurred can help with recall, while asking open-ended questions can assist in obtaining more detailed explanations.

      3. MAKE THE INTERVIEWEE COMFORTABLE

      One of the most important aspects of building rapport is to make sure the interviewee is relaxed. Ensure that there is adequate privacy for the interview to take place away from the prying eyes and ears of co-workers, and offer comfortable seating and beverages. It is essential to create a sense of trust in the interviewee, by making them comfortable, conveying an impression of competence and expertise, and by actively listening to them. If this occurs, the interviewee is more likely to feel comfortable divulging information.

      4. MIRROR THE INTERVIEWEE TO BOND WITH THEM

      A tip frequently utilised by law enforcement officials in conducting investigative interviews is to mirror the interviewee. This involves actively listening to what the interviewee is saying and "mirroring" or reflecting their mental state and emotions, such as expressing frustration about the way in which they have been treated, demonstrating understanding and validation of their feelings, and acknowledging that their experiences are significant and potentially very destabilising.

      Mirroring is also closely aligned with the principle of reciprocity, which suggests that interviewees will respond in a way which matches the interviewer's attitude towards and interaction with them. An empathetic or obviously interested interviewer will doubtlessly elicit more information than one with an aggressive or unpleasant style.

      It is particularly important to find factors of commonality and shared experiences if there is a power imbalance between the interviewer and the interviewee (such as a relationship of employer and employee or an external workplace investigator who is effectively a stranger). This can be as simple as discussing recent weather events, the traffic or sporting teams.

      OBTAINING PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE

      Conducting investigative interviews generally can be challenging. For more tips on how to undertake interviews in the workplace, participate in one of our upcoming advanced training courses on conducting investigations.

      Alternatively, if you prefer to obtain expert assistance from the get-go, Wise Workplace provides full investigation services. Contact us today to find out how we can help with your workplace investigations.