At the conclusion of a workplace investigation, the investigator has the challenging task of pulling together all relevant material into a cohesive report. The style of report that is chosen will be firmly linked to the purpose of the investigation, keeping in mind the requirements of the readers and users of the document.
Investigators need to consider closely the manner in which findings are made and how best to share findings with key parties in a clear and appropriate manner. The outcome of a workplace investigation and report might well be that mediation and/or other processes are indicated as next steps. The tasks of drafting, writing and communicating a workplace investigation report are all crucial parts of the process.
whAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE REPORT?
Any investigation report must provide a clear and unbiased summary of the process and outcomes of an investigation. This is a document that leaves nothing to guesswork when it comes to describing the background, methodology, parties involved, timeline of events, policies and findings that have arisen across the entire timespan of the investigative process.
It can be tempting for an organisation to decide during an investigation not to obtain a report, and to keep any outcomes ‘informal’. However, if there are adverse outcomes for one or more parties, a transparent report will be the best way to prevent any future claims of unfair process.
the style of report
No two investigation reports will have exactly the same style, the author, allegations, organisation type and specific circumstances all lend a unique nature to a report. Yet some common themes can be found in all high-quality investigations.
Firstly, the report should be written in professional plain English. A variety of readers should be able to interpret the report – without recourse to a thesaurus! In-house descriptors and acronyms can be used, but these must first be defined or form part of a comprehensive glossary. Clear contents and a logical progression from index and executive summary through to scope, methodology, evidence, discussion, findings and recommendations will also assist any audience to understand the document.
All findings made in an investigation report must be supported by the facts. If the facts are established, the investigator needs to determine what policy and/or law have been breached by the conduct. Once these elements are established, they must be communicated effectively and clearly in the written report.
As with the report’s overall style, findings should be logical. The report cannot simply list evidence then move to findings. Careful and reasoned explanation is needed of both the process of analysis and the deliberations undertaken by the investigator.
This includes explaining what and why certain weighting was given to particular parts of the evidence, or why an interviewee might have been persuasive or unpersuasive on a particular point. Making clear findings is often harder than it might at first appear. Similarly, clearly reflecting the author’s final thoughts in a clear and concise manner, making the report user friendly for all readers, is a challenging yet essential part of making defensible findings.
One issue to consider closely is how the outcomes of the investigation, contained in the report, will be communicated to the participants. Given that witnesses have provided evidence in confidence, their privacy needs to be protected.
Other questions which need to be considered when sharing the outcome of an investigation with parties include:
- Could safety be in issue by the release of particular data?
- Is the presence of a support person necessary?
- Should the report be presented to all parties together at a meeting?
While a report must be clear and comprehensive in all of the matters that formed part of the process, consideration should be given to the use, delivery and description of information provided during the workplace investigation.
Moving on from a workplace investigation
A common recommendation is for parties involved in a workplace investigation to participate in mediation in relation to one or more issues. This is often the case where emotions have stalled effective interactions at work, or where a ‘he said – she said’ situation makes it impossible to make a clear finding on issues of fact.
It is important to establish if all issues warrant mediation, or if only a few can realistically be dealt with in this way. Who should conduct the mediation is an interesting topic in itself – and one for future discussion. Effective mediation can create resolution of the issues and, ideally, improve workplace relationships. Yet if such discussions fall through, it is important that the report itself will withstand any future scrutiny or review.
If you need assistance with conducting an investigation, contact WISE now or enrol in our popular and effective ‘Conducting Workplace Investigations’ training course.