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Safe and successful workplace Investigations

Any type of allegation or suspicious activity requires investigation, but it can be a difficult thing to get right. Failure can be costly, as a poor investigation could result in court time and a decision against your organization.

HRM spoke to Rubin Thomlinson employment lawyer Cory Boyd about the common mistakes and key stages of a workplace investigation.

For more legal advice and information, see HRM's Workplace Law pages.

Video transcript below:

Caitlin Nobes:  Rushed processes, biased investigators and incorrect assumptions can all hamper workplace investigation.  Improve your process with this week’s episode of HRM TV.
One of the biggest mistakes organisation make is not clarifying what they are investigating and how they are going to approach it.  It’s important to ask yourself some questions before you start.  

Cory Boyd, HR, Rubin Thomlison
Cory Boyd:
 You know, is this an investigation that we should conduct internally or should we consider given the parties involved, the complexity of the issues, is it a matter that we should consider sending external for the investigation.  If an organisation is going to do that investigation internally who is the best person within the organisation to conduct the investigation.  Is there someone who has particular expertise or who will be seen as neutral by the parties and if so maybe they are the best persons to investigate the matter.  It’s important to take a bit of time to narrow your mandate, really focus in and ask yourself a few questions which are, what is it that I am being asked to investigate, what are the allegations, who am I investigating and what policy if any am I asked to inquire.

Caitlin Nobes:  Narrowing your focus in this way helps to avoid accusations of bias or prejudice.  A common problem is failing to be fair, especially towards the accused party.  What you are trying to do is find facts, not build a police case.  

Cory Boyd:  So a couple of things that we recommend is that prior to interviewing the respondent about the allegations, you share the allegations with them and give them the chance to prepare.  It shouldn’t be a situation like you know in a TV series about police officers where they slam the allegations down in front of a person and say what do you have to say.  I mean we give them the chance to prepare for the meeting, the same way that the complainant had the chance to prepare for it, the meeting that they attended as well.  And the tone of the interview with the respondent should really be, we like to use the phrase warmly neutral, it’s not an interrogation, you are not grilling them, you are not trying to get a confession.  You really are asking them a series of neutral questions, trying to get their perspective and their description of the experience.

Caitlin Nobes:  When you find contradictory information from one party, Boyd recommended going back to the respondent who can often clarify a situation that may have been one sided.  Another common problem is failing to record all the information that was collected.

Cory Boyd:  The report is going to last a lot longer than your memory of the investigation and so we recommend that the report is as thorough and complete as possible and really outlines the process that you undertook, the evidence that you gathered and all the reasons for the conclusions that you reached.  It’s important that that document is a complete document and that your memory is actually being relied on to fill in the gaps, because people forget things and people leave the organisation and the report will need to exist on its own.

Caitlin Nobes:  Finally it’s important to have a restorative process in place so the parties can work together comfortably again.  I’m Caitlin Nobes, thanks for watching HRM TV.