Investigation meetings at work

Investigation meetings at work


Despite the importance of them, there is often confusion about what investigation meetings at work are. (In this blog we refer to investigation meetings as part of the disciplinary process, but investigation meetings are used in the management of grievances too). Sometimes investigation meetings at work may be referred to as investigation meetings, workplace investigations or disciplinary investigations. However they are described, such meetings are part of the disciplinary process. They are necessary when misconduct is alleged, and disciplinary sanctions may be imposed in the future. The purpose of investigation meetings at work is to seek to understand what happened by gaining any relevant information, interviewing those involved etc. and then deciding whether or not the matter should progress to a disciplinary hearing.

This blog will explore why investigation meetings are important, what employee rights are during an investigation, and consider common mistakes that are made when undertaking investigation meetings.


Why are investigation meetings at work important?

It is easy to make assumptions about why something happened or who was responsible for the situation, but this instinct should be avoided. Investigation meetings are important for a number of reasons:


1. A properly conducted investigation enables an employer to make an informed decision regarding next steps


It may be that there is an entirely innocent explanation for what has happened. If so, carrying out an effective investigation will reveal that, and no further action is needed. Another possibility is that the investigation takes unexpected twists and turns such as other people potentially being responsible for what happened rather than the person initially under investigation.


It is important to remember that attending an investigation meeting does not indicate any wrongdoing, and no-one involved in the investigation phase should suggest otherwise. The investigation phase is not concerned with who is to blame and what the punishment or sanction should be, those are matters to be decided at the disciplinary hearing (for more information on a disciplinary hearing view our blog how to be successful at a disciplinary hearing. In contrast, investigation meetings at work are concerned with gaining information and deciding whether the matter should be taken further or not.


Whatever the issue is, it is important that employer’s have sufficient information to decide on next steps whether that is deciding that no further action is needed, concluding that the matter should progress to a disciplinary hearing or reaching the conclusion that the investigation meetings at work should continue for longer than expected before any decisions can be made.


2. Having a robust investigation phase in place increases the likelihood of transparency and fairness


An effective investigation means that however complex the situation is it is possible to establish the facts. Basing decisions on evidence rather than instinct is likely to reassure those involved in the process that they can have confidence in it, that they will be treated fairly, and that the truth will come to light.


3. A thorough investigation is likely to help a disciplinary hearing to run more smoothly


In circumstances when the matter is progressed to a disciplinary hearing, a thorough investigation will be very useful to all those involved (including the employee accused of wrongdoing). There are many reasons why an effective investigation is helpful. For example, having all relevant information to hand enables the panel to fully understand the issues involved and ask questions which get to the heart of what needs to be decided. A proper investigation will mean all relevant information, including that which is supportive of employees, is available and therefore employees can put their case properly.

4. If an employee brings a claim at the Employment Tribunal the nature of the investigation carried out may well be relevant


Without an effective investigation, it is easy for errors to occur. Perhaps, a matter is progressed to a disciplinary hearing when it should not have been, or the wrong result is reached at a disciplinary hearing because the facts of the situation were not established. Either situation could have serious consequences for the organisation. For example, if dismissed, the former employee may potentially bring a claim of unfair dismissal. In such circumstances, the quality of an investigation is likely to be a highly relevant factor for the Employment Tribunal to consider when deciding whether the employer acted fairly or not.


How to write an invitation to an investigation meeting

As said throughout this blog, the purpose of an investigation meeting is to understand what happened and why. Depending on the circumstances, this may mean gathering documents or interviewing the various people who were involved in the matter being investigated. Regardless of the complexity, and the number of people involved, it is important not to forget that the employee under investigation should have their say too.

The employee should be invited to an investigation meeting and, in that invitation, provided with sufficient information to be aware of what the position is, such as being made aware of the allegations being investigated.

Workplace investigations and employee rights

Employees are entitled to be treated fairly throughout the disciplinary process. As far as the investigation meeting is concerned, this would mean, for example, advising employees of the allegations made against them, enabling employees to participate fully in the process, and ensuring that the investigation takes into account what the employee has said.


Common mistakes when undertaking investigation meetings at work


1. A failure to find or consider the evidence


It is common for employers to swiftly decide what happened without undertaking an investigation. This approach has considerable risk associated with it. Yes, instincts could be correct, but they may well not be. Furthermore, it will be much harder for an employer to show that its actions were reasonable when there is little evidence to support the decisions that were made.


2. Regarding the investigation meeting as the same as the disciplinary hearing


It is an error to think that an investigation meeting and a disciplinary hearing are the same thing. They are completely different and should be separate and distinct. Despite this, mistakes are often made such as deciding, during the investigation meeting, that the employee did what is alleged or perhaps even deciding on the sanction to be imposed at the investigation meeting rather than at a disciplinary hearing.


3. Having one person undertake multiple roles


It may well be tempting to have the same person be involved in both the investigation and the hearing. After all, that person is already aware of the situation and it will therefore save time. However, this approach should be avoided wherever possible. Having different people involved at each stage is another way of showing that the actions taken by the employer were fair.


4. Not having professional advice or training


Workplace investigations can be complex and often cause confusion and prompt questions such as how detailed does the investigation need to be? How sure do we need to be before we progress the matter to a disciplinary hearing? Professional advice would provide clarity and ensure that everything remains on track.


5. Not allowing the employee to have their say


Unfortunately, sometimes employees are not given an opportunity to have their say. For example, by not listening to the explanation provided or by not investigating the points raised by the employee during the investigation. These are two examples of a blinkered approach which suggest the investigation is not fulfilling its intended purpose.

At Plotkin & Chandler we work exclusively in the areas of HR and employment law. We offer a range of services for employers such as independent disciplinary investigations, HR consultancy whereby we would be on hand to offer advice and attend meetings as part of your team, and we have expertise in delivering HR training on a range of topics such as investigation meetings at work, disciplinary hearings etc.

If you are an employee who is facing a disciplinary investigation, or a disciplinary hearing, we can support you throughout the process. If you have been dismissed, and believe you have been treated unfairly, we can advise you on the merits of a potential Employment Tribunal claim.

If you would like to discuss your needs, and the ways in which we can help, call us on 020 3923 8616 or email us at info@plotkinandchandler.com




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