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Mastering Workplace Investigations – Ensuring Fairness and Compliance in Your Agency 

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Tracey Hudson

We have all seen the drama that comes with allegations. In the last couple of years, we’ve had the Phillip Schofield story, Nigel Farage shouting about Coutts bank resulting in the Chief Exec losing her job, and the BBC scandal with allegations against Huw Edwards being just a few. There will be investigations happening behind the scenes with guilty parties doing their best to wriggle out of trouble of course. However, we could also have innocent people being wrongly accused – are they being supported or punished in the process? And there’s the rest of us!! When it’s in the news, we’re all talking about it. We’ve all made our minds up. Everyone’s loudly speculating about who did what and there’s always debates over what should happen next. It’s too noisy! So a good investigator needs to cut out that noise and focus on finding out the facts. That is always difficult and why good HR professionals need to follow the rule of “Assume nothing, believe no one and check everything” during any investigation. 

Following a policy 

As an Agency, you may have a policy in place which must be followed. If you haven’t got one, don’t panic. It’s a legal requirement to have a disciplinary and grievance procedure, but not a policy specifically covering investigation as such.  

Here are some important steps: 

Basic principles 

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. I’ve been in HR over 20 years and I don’t think I’ve ever dismissed someone with over 2 years’ service without conducting a proper investigation and I feel like I’ve seen everything, so no excuses to skip a step here! 

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, so don’t drag out investigations – get on with it! 

Don’t assume guilt. Where an allegation has been raised, it’s easy to just default to supporting the ‘victim’, but the person who is being accused also needs support whilst the process is happening. That person will likely feel isolated (particularly if they are suspended from work), embarrassed, and hugely frustrated if they are innocent. So, from a mental health perspective, make sure that they remain well. 

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. In a smaller agency, this is a hard job because you will know everyone so well, so you can use a professional for this bit – at The HR Dept we are always conducting investigations for clients, so get in touch with a local HR consultant and you carry on with doing your job instead. 

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 and not rushed. Not rushing is important – ask your question, and then listen. Let people speak. Embrace the awkward silence – don’t fill it with bombarding the individual with questions. 

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, texts, emails, WhatsApp messages 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. The person who is investigating is just fact-finding – they are not responsible for making decisions on any subsequent disciplinary hearing outcomes, so the report needs to do the same – just report the facts as they are found.  

Final thoughts 

Agencies are unlikely to face public scrutiny, but consider your reputation – how will your clients trust you to protect their brands if you can’t protect your own? Also, it’s important from an employee retention perspective – if you can’t be trusted to be open, honest and transparent during such times, then you risk losing your good employees. HR providers will often train managers on conducting investigations, so maybe have a look into this for those of your staff who are managing others. 


About the Author

Tracey Hudson is an experienced HR professional having worked in HR for over 20 years, predominantly advising the SME market. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and has built a wealth of experience across all industries over the years including working with marketing and ad agencies, so she really knows her stuff! And on top of that, she’s always happy to have a chat with anyone so if you want to pick her brain, drop her a message.

  • 🔍 Recent allegations have caused significant public discussion and speculation. 💬
  • 📜 Agencies should have clear policies for handling investigations; following legal requirements for disciplinary procedures. 📝
  • 🕵️‍♂️ Investigations should be thorough, timely, and avoid assumptions about guilt to maintain trust. ⏳
  • 👤 Choose an impartial investigator with the right expertise and provide them with adequate resources. 👩‍💼
  • 🎤 Interviewing should be objective, in private, and questions should focus on establishing facts, not hearsay. 📩
  • 🌐 Protect agency reputation by being transparent; consider training managers on investigation procedures. 🛡️