The importance of getting a workplace investigation right

June 7, 2023

With the daily barrage of comments in the news, the Phillip Schofield story shows no sign of abating.

Indeed ITV bosses have even been summoned before MPs to give answers.

While ITV did declare that it had investigated rumours of the relationship between Schofield and a much younger colleague, it would now appear that those investigating the rumours were lied to. That is always difficult and why, at The HR Dept, we follow the rule of “Assume nothing, believe no one and check everything” during any investigation.

Following a policy.
As a company you may have a policy in place which must be followed, but here are some important steps. Investigations into grievances and disciplinary issues are important in establishing trust in the organisation. Very few disciplinary issues can be dealt with without a full investigation.

Always remember that it is stressful for the person under investigation, so ensure it is carried out in a timely manner but not rushed. Not only does this help the individual but improves the accuracy of information gathered as people do forget. As the late Queen famously said: “Recollections may vary”.

Choosing the right person.
For potential disciplinary issues, appoint a person to investigate who is not directly involved and allow them the time and access to information to be thorough. Does this person have the knowledge and experience to understand the issues involved? You will need to agree the terms of reference. If another issue arises during the investigation these may need to be widened.

The Investigating officer needs to be fair and objective and not set out to prove guilt. Whilst there is no legal right to be accompanied to a workplace investigation, in some situations it may be helpful. Do you need a translator present for someone who does not have English as a first language? Interviews must be confidential and in a private area.

It is important that the questions are designed to establish facts, not rely on hearsay. What physical evidence can support the statements. Evidence such as emails, receipts, CCTV footage etc. should all be considered.

After the investigation.
Once the investigation has been completed, a report should be finalised with the accompanying witness statements. This is the basis for any subsequent disciplinary action.

Conducting proper investigations is not easy. Often, companies ask us to carry them out as they see that an impartial investigation is valuable. Managers can attend our training courses too.

One final thought.
ITV’s PR department has been in overdrive since the story broke, trying to manage the media fall-out. While an SME is highly unlikely to have quite such public scrutiny following a failed investigation, it may still be serious at your own level.

As well as unlimited telephone and email HR support and tribunal indemnity insurance, our retained Advice Line also provides Crisis Comms cover which gives you professional PR assistance to manage adverse media coverage and reputational damage.

For help with a specific investigation or to find out about our retained services and training, please give your local HR Dept office a call.