Where a serious allegation is made in the workplace, it is common for an employer to undertake an investigation into that allegation. The sorts of matters that are routinely investigated include bullying and harassment, sexual harassment, theft, fraud, and any other form of serious misconduct (the sort of activity that would result in a summary dismissal).

An allegation need not come from another employee. An employer may form a suspicion that a particular employee is acting inappropriately (stealing IP, for example, or in an extreme case stealing company money). In such an instance an employer would commence an investigation at its own initiative.

Impartial investigators

Generally, an investigation involves an impartial investigator making inquiries into the truth of the allegations made. This typically involves interviewing witnesses, considering any available documentary or video evidence, and expressing a ‘finding’. Armed with the finding, an employer will typically then decide how to deal with the complaint. If a complaint is sustained, there may be disciplinary consequences for the person who is the subject of the complaint (including warnings, additional training, and in the extreme cases, termination of employment). If a complaint is not sustained, action may still be taken. An employer might take steps to avoid further workplace conflict (for example, by changing reporting lines), or in the case of a vexatious complaint, may take disciplinary action against the complainant.

Termination and even lesser disciplinary action is always risky for an employer, as it can give rise to unfair and constructive dismissal allegations. However a well-managed independent investigation will give an employer a solid basis upon which to make a decision, even if it includes termination of employment.

Managing an investigation ‘in-house’ can be problematic. The findings may be open to an allegation that they lack impartiality which could potentially put the company at risk of an unfair dismissal claim, and they can cause a great deal of disruption in a business (there is of course always an opportunity cost in allocating an appropriately senior employee to undertake an investigation, necessarily at the expense of their actual job).

How can we help?

We regularly conduct workplace investigations across a very wide range of different types of allegations (though most typically bullying and harassment). We can handle your investigation in a quick and efficient way that will minimise disruption to your business and provide you with certainty of cost and outcome, and give you a rock-solid basis upon which to make a decision and put the allegation to rest.

Lawyers in Sydney