Why should organisations conduct workplace investigations?
It’s easy, and not uncommon, for allegations raised by an employee (such as bullying allegations) to be treated as trivial, and as a consequence to not be followed up. Employers have a duty of care to provide their employees with a safe workplace, and this includes providing an environment that is safe from psychological harm. The implications for organisations that ignore serious allegations, that are later found to be substantiated, can be major.
For example, in an extreme case of bullying, in 2010 the company Café Vamp in Victoria, its owner, manager, and coworkers were collectively fined $335,000 for breaches of Health and Safety legislation, relating to the bullying of Brodie Panlock in 2005 and 2006. This case later led to changes of the Crimes Act, which effectively made bullying a crime in Victoria from 1 January 2014.
In 2013, The Victorian Department of Justice were directed to pay $300,000 in compensation to one of their employees for psychiatric injuries due to bullying.
To meet your Health and Safety obligations, when allegations of bullying are made, they should be investigated. Similarly, when allegations of theft or fraud arise, it’s also wise to conduct a workplace investigation.
Investigations need to be conducted fairly and they should comply with principles of natural justice. This includes:
- allegations being investigated in a fair manner;
- allegations being put clearly to the person whose behaviour is in question;
- giving people adequate time to respond to allegations;
- collecting and considering all relevant information;
- avoiding bias (eg. in terms of who conducts the investigation); and
- dealing with the matter promptly.
Conducting a fair and thorough investigation can then be used to justify and defend an organisation’s reasons for taking action, such as discipline or dismissal, or to justify a decision for not taking action.
Girardi HR Services provides a workplace investigation service, drawing on experience from more than 20 years in the field of human resources, including conducting numerous workplace investigations.