There will be occasions when it may be necessary for a manager or supervisor to complete a workplace investigation or fact finding interview to determine the relevant details or background of a specific issue or concern. These may include issues such as;
• Where allegations of misconduct have been raised
• A grievance being received
• Issues in regards to an employee’s poor performance
• Complaint being received from a member of the public.
Completing a thorough and detailed investigation will help determine what steps should be taken to manage appropriately a specific issue or concern and whether there is any requirement for further action to be taken.
Interviews are an important aspect of the investigation process, however, gathering and reviewing relevant documentation and appropriate evidence can be just as important. These could include for example;
• Attendance issues: absence records, tracker reports, time sheets, policies and procedures
• Poor performance: Written appraisals, one-to-one meeting notes, letters of complaint, training records
• Misconduct: Previous warnings, letters of complaint
• Other evidence may include areas such as, telephone records, e-mails, internet history or CCTV footage.
Confidentiality and Timescales
All investigations where possible should be conducted in such a manner as to maintain the strictest of confidentiality, and completed in as short a period of time as possible.
Investigation Interview Preparation
Where there is an identified requirement to include interviews as a part of the investigation process, the appointed investigating manager should make the necessary arrangements to meet with any individuals who are required to provide an account of what they witnessed or had involvement with.
The investigating manager should prepare in advance of the interview and;
• Make practical arrangements to conduct the investigation interview
• Check the availability of everyone required to be interviewed
• Make arrangements for a suitable venue
• Arrange a note taker
• In advance inform individuals who are require to be interviewed their attendance at a formal investigation meeting
• Read all available documents, statements and evidence available prior to interviews
• Familiarise or reacquaint yourself with the particular procedures that you are working within, for example, the disciplinary or grievance procedures
• Prepare your questions, but be flexible in your approach when asking the questions
• Prepare a chronology of your approach to the interview
• Where required refer any procedural questions to WTI HR Specialists before commencing the investigation process.
Conducting the Investigation Interview
In conducting an investigation interview the following process should be followed;
• As the investigating manager introduce everyone present at the meeting
• Explain the role of the investigation manager and purpose within the meeting
• Explain the role of the note taker ensuring that everyone understands that the notes are not verbatim notes. Explain further that at the end of the meeting they will be asked to read through the notes and will be required to sign them as an accurate account of the meeting
• Request their permission to use the information that they are going to provide during the investigation interview. This should be requested in case it should be identified that the information gathered is required to support any further action
• Ensure that the employee is aware that they can call an adjournment at any point throughout the investigation interview
• Make it clear that confidentiality must be maintained within the parties attending the meeting
• Outline the situation that is being investigated and the reason for inviting them to the investigation interview
• Ask if they have any questions before proceeding
• Ask the employee to explain what happened
• Follow up with questions to establish the facts of what happened
• If required call an adjournment to gather your thoughts and consider any further questions.
• Give consideration to the circumstances of the employee, it may be more practical/appropriate for the investigating manager to leave the meeting room than for the employee
• If the adjournment is to make any decision, ensure that enough time is allowed for appropriate consideration
• Contact WTI HR Specialists if you are unsure or need advice.
Resume the meeting
• Ask the employee if they have anything further to add that they want to be taken into consideration
• For employees subject to formal allegations, where possible, explain that you have considered all the evidence and that you have to advise them that either;
a) You have no alternative than to refer the matter too further formal proceedings, or
b) The matter should be managed adopting more informal procedures, or
c) There is no further action required.
Ending the meeting
• Ensure the employee signs and dates the recorded notes
• Provide them a copy of the notes taken followed up with a typed copy
• Remind them of the need for confidentiality
• Thank everyone for their cooperation.
Asking appropriate and searching questions which support the investigating manager to gather the necessary facts and evidence is essential in the management of the interview process. The person being interviewed should be made to feel calm and relaxed, and should be encouraged to speak freely and convey in their own words their version of events.
The questions required for each interview need to be considered carefully to ensure that all the necessary information required can be gathered. The use of some particular types of questioning can prove to be obstructive and could potentially even discredit the whole interview process, for example leading or ambiguous questions.
Structured Questioning the Funnel Technique
Effective questioning is the key to ensuring a successful investigation interview. The funnel technique enables the investigating manager to start with a broad open question, and to then define their questions in more detail in response to the answers provided.
There are broadly 3 steps involved in the ‘Funnel Technique’;
1. Open Questions: The line of questioning in regards to a specific area of the investigation being looking into should start with an open question. This provides the respondent the widest possible scope for responding and provides the investigating manager with the information required to start to better understand the specific area being looking into
2. Probing Questions: The focus for using probing questions will allow the investigating manager to draw out further, specific information and details from the answer provided and provides for a better understanding of the specific area being looked into
3. Closed Questions: Through asking closed questions the investigating manager can confirm specific details or clarify their understanding of what has been discussed. At this stage the investigating manager should have a clear understanding of the specific area being looked into.
Blocks to Listening
It can be very challenging to remain focused and listen to someone, particularly when completing a formal investigation interview. It can be very tempting to think ahead to what your next question should be, and often we tend not to listen, we are waiting to speak.
Some blocks to listening can include;
• Information provided is not what you require
• Distracted by internal pre-occupations
• Extreme accent or appearance
• Content of discussions shocking
• Environment unsuitable.
Listening requires real effort and the desire to understand the issue being discussed. Active listening involves the investigating manager feeding back what they have heard by way of repeating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words. This helps confirm what has been discussed has been understood.
Conclusions of the Investigation
Once the investigating manager has gathered all the information required they will have to consider what, if any, further action is required.
• Do examine all the evidence in an objective manner
• Do take into account the employees explanation and version of events
• Do try to distinguish between facts and opinions
• Do review the evidence on the balance of probabilities. i.e. what is more likely than not to have occurred
• Do consider whether or not a witness’s version of events is accurate and genuine
• Don’t make a decision based on instinct. Make a decision based on the factual evidence you have
• Don’t discount evidence that points to innocence.
Conclude Your Findings within Your Report
On completion of the investigation process the investigating manager must formulate and summarise their findings based on the testimonies and evidence that they have collated. It is important to recognise and understand that you must be able to evidence all conclusions and subsequent recommendations.
It is important that the report is written with the reader in mind. Keep the text of the report clear, brief and to the point. Express to the reader what it is they need to understand i.e. what has been concluded.
Summarise your findings and make recommendations of what course of action should be considered. To help formulate recommendations, consider previous cases of a similar nature and their specific outcomes. Where required contact WTI HR Specialists for further advice and support.
In support of the report add as appendices all the testimonies and evidence collated during the investigation process.
Should you have any questions or queries regarding completing workplace investigations or if we can support your investigation requirements please do not hesitate to direct them to us via our contact page details.