What Happens In A Disciplinary Or Grievance Investigation?
Workplace investigations are a tricky thing to get right. When managers have to investigate allegations or incidents, it’s essential that they focus on finding out what happened rather than looking for evidence to support what they believe happened.
The consequences of getting an investigation wrong can be serious. The employment tribunal system is full of cases where the employee won their claim because the investigation conducted by the company had been insufficient. Even if things don’t get that far, a poor investigation can damage working relationships and result in staff leaving.
The building blocks of a solid investigation
There are a number of ways managers can ensure that they follow the right process when investigating a disciplinary or grievance matter. These are:
- The company’s procedures on discipline and grievance must be followed at all times. Any deviation could compromise the perceived quality or fairness of the investigation.
- Keep an open mind and never allow office politics to influence how you investigate the matter. Other staff and managers may have agendas that have nothing to do with the matter being investigated.
- Most disciplinary or grievance issues start with a complaint, which can take the form of a letter or a verbal report. Once this has been read, the investigating manager can form a plan in terms of whom to interview and which documents or other evidence may be required.
- Where people do need to be interviewed, arrange for this to be done as quickly as possible. The longer the gap, the less reliable an employee’s memory will be. It’s also useful to be alert to any details they provide that are aligned or conflict.
- Back up as much verbal testimony with other kinds of evidence wherever you can. For example, if one employee accuses another of not following health and safety procedures, did the person under investigation attend their last scheduled training course? Is there proof – such as emails and attendee lists – that the employee failed to attend?
- A solid investigation brings all of the strands together so that there is evidence to suggest that an incident happened in a certain way or that an employee behaved in a certain way.
Concluding the investigation
While investigating managers are responsible for conducting fair and thorough investigations, they also have to make a decision on how the matter will be taken forward. In disciplinary investigations, the manager decides whether the allegations should be reviewed at a formal disciplinary hearing. In grievance investigations, the manager’s duty is to uphold or not uphold the employee’s grievance.
Both of these tasks can only be undertaken successfully if the manager reviews all of the evidence gathered and is confident that there are no remaining questions in their mind or gaps in the information gathered. In disciplinary circumstances, the manager will be expected to present the case on behalf of the employer so they must be clear that there is enough evidence to warrant moving forward to a formal hearing. In concluding a grievance, the manager will have to communicate the reasons for reaching their decision.
Disciplinary and grievance situations require investigations that are organised, comprehensive and unbiased. By following the process of thorough evidence gathering, careful review and professional conclusion, investigating managers will tick all of the boxes on what should happen throughout.
Katherine Graham has 22 years’ experience in the field of workplace dispute resolution. She was made Managing Director of CMP Resolutions in 2009; prior to this she was CMP’s Director of Dispute Resolution. She has delivered more than 400 mediations, often working at the most senior level mediating complex disputes between directors, partners, and CEOs.