Disciplinary investigation at work

09 July 2019

If your business finds itself in the situation where it has to hold a disciplinary hearing, then you’ll need to hold an investigation prior to that. It’s an essential part of the process. For your business, it’ll discover if there’s evidence available to justify the hearing. It will also establish, for the employee in question, what the allegations are against them. As such, in this guide we take a look into this process and how to go about approaching the various requirements.

How to carry out a disciplinary investigation

You should already know the importance on the disciplinary procedure. It ensures that, if there is ultimately a dismissal, then it’s fair. But it’s also not uncommon to have a business fail to take the investigation element seriously. You should consider Acas’ code of practice when conducting this—as well as grievance procedures—before carrying out your move to investigate the case. Conducting a disciplinary investigation is, consequently, very important so you avoid any claims of an unfair dismissal. So you can hold a formal investigation meeting at work to ensure you approach the procedure in the right way. Then you can follow these steps:

  • Ensure the individual carrying out the investigation has no connection to the disciplinary allegations. Failing to do so will make your process like unfair.
  • You should also make sure that the investigator doesn’t have any involvement at a later stage in the process, so before picking this individual consider who you’ll need further in the process to chair important meetings.
  • Before you start the process, consider whether you should use a suspension for the employee. If it’s an act of gross misconduct, for example, then it would be good business practice to suspend them. This is because you can undermine your investigation and the seriousness of what’s taken place if you allow the individual to continue working, despite a major issue having occurred. Again, this could lead to another unfair dismissal decision.

Important investigation at work procedures

There are some tips we can offer you to follow along with the details above. So, keep the following in mind before you go ahead with your procedure.

  1. Keep notes: You should maintain notes for all meetings you hold for your investigation—this includes for those with your employee facing accusations. The sooner you can make these notes the better, so you have a record of the incident before memory begins to fade. This can make witness statements less reliable.
  2. Remind everyone about confidentiality: You should remember to remind any witnesses making a statement that their details are confidential. But you should also let them know they can’t discuss the case with colleagues or anyone else.
  3. Companions in a meeting: Although it isn’t a statutory right, you can allow employees to have accompaniment into the meeting. This is particularly the case if it’s a disabled staff member, who is immediately placed at a disadvantage.
  4. Remember what the investigation is about: It’s not a disciplinary hearing. You’re there to father the evidence available to you in the build-up to the hearing.
  5. Don’t breach your duty of trust and confidentiality: Remind the investigating officer they should take reasonable steps to gather information, but should never rely on undue force. This will simply undermine your procedures.
  6. Provide a recommendation: At the end of the investigation, your officer should look at all the available evidence they have acquired. After this, they should make a recommendation based on this information for the appropriate next steps. For instance, they may feel there’s insufficient evidence to go ahead with the hearing.
  7. Finally, as a main point to remember, if the employee admits to their guilt at any stage in the investigation, you must still invite them to the disciplinary hearing. It’s at this they can still present their case, but you can also show the evidence you have.

Length of your investigation

One common question we receive from businesses is how much time you should take gathering information. So for an investigation at work, how long should it take? In terms of starting it, do so as soon as possible. There isn’t a specific timescale you should follow, although you may already have a business procedure set up that established the expected timeframes. In Acas’ code of practice, however, it states that you should start the process without any unreasonably delay. Ultimately, the research you need to conduct depends on the situation. It may take days, weeks, or months—it could also incorporate multiple departments, such as HR or IT.

Need more assistance?

Our business consultancy offers expert advice and guidance through all stages of a disciplinary procedure. Get in touch today for more information: 0800 028 2420.

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