A workplace investigation can be a traumatic and emotional event for everyone involved.
Let’s take a look at how an organisation can move forward after a workplace investigation, regardless of whether the complaint has upheld or if any disciplinary action has been taken.
WHAT happens when an investigation is concluded?
After the investigative process has finished it is important for all parties involved to be updated on the outcome. This includes the complainant, the accused and potentially in some circumstances, witnesses who have been heavily involved in the process. It is important that the parties are kept in the loop and do not find out from each other or another source, that the investigation has concluded.
Any concerns arising out of the investigative process and findings which are raised by the parties, should also be dealt with. This may include questions of how confidentiality is to be maintained; details of how any disciplinary action will be implemented and work in practice; concerns about how the parties are to continue to work together (if possible); and how an organisation will be able to support all of the parties affected by the investigation findings and outcomes.
Once these concerns have been identified and addressed to the best of management’s abilities, the outcome of the investigation should not be shared with the workplace generally. However should be communicated with the applicable parties, where appropriate to do so, that does not breach any parties confidentiality.
Having a communication strategy will avoid rumour or conjecture.
what are some common complications?
It may be tempting for management not to share the outcome of an investigation with staff. This approach is usually taken in an effort to avoid breaching confidentiality or to squash gossip.
However, poor communication generally results in a growing mistrust of management – especially if a decision is made to terminate a respondent’s employment. If they are simply there one day and gone the next, this can have a negative impact on staff confidence levels.
Communication is particularly crucial if the investigation has led to changes in the management structure. These changes could occur, for example, because there is a termination of employment in a team, or it has become apparent that the ‘old’ structure isn’t efficient. These types of changes require extremely good communication at all times.
Similarly, the temptation for staff to breach confidentiality and gossip is extreme after an investigation. This is especially so if the outcome is perceived as being unfair or inappropriate. In order to minimise the spread of gossip, management should ensure that as much information that is appropriate and maintains confidentiality, is distributed to the business in a timely fashion. All parties involved in the investigation, regardless of the nature of their involvement, should be reminded of their confidentiality obligations and the potential consequences of breaching them.
Another common post-investigation outcome is the desire for retribution. This may occur regardless of what the findings were, because for example a peer may consider that a colleague has been treated unfairly. Alternatively, a colleague may form the view that the investigation has not been through or harsh enough or has come to the wrong conclusion. Regardless of the motivation, management must be cautious to avoid and identify any retribution and manage any issues that arise swiftly if this behaviour occurs.
Even if an investigation has been run thoroughly and ‘cleanly’, it is important for post-investigation strategies to be in place to avoid potentially negative consequences.
As noted, these strategies include excellent communication on a ‘top down’ basis. This is to minimise gossip and to ensure that confidence in management is restored.
Additional strategies may include arranging mediation for the involved parties, to ensure that any concerns are voiced before an independent third party.
The post-investigative period is also a good time for the organisation to pull together as a whole and discuss workplace values and standards. This can be an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the allegations (to the extent that they are disclosable) and to reaffirm the organisation’s approach towards such behaviours.
If the alleged behaviour is particularly offensive, and strict action was taken as a result, this can also serve as a timely reminder for the organisation to reinforce and remind all staff, that code of conduct or criminal breaches are taken extremely seriously.
Similarly, any changes in company culture or procedures that are clearly required in the wake of the investigation, can best be introduced in this timeframe.
If you need effective resolution of workplace disputes following an investigation, WISE Workplace provides advice coupled with mediation services on how to best resolve post-investigation concerns.