Investigating Misconduct

Do you really know what you’re doing when it comes to investigating misconduct? Did you know, a flawed internal investigation process could cost your organisation dearly?

Does this scenario sound familiar? Allegations of misconduct have been made against an employee. You’re faced with two immediate choices – investigate the matter yourself or find an external specialist to investigate for you. You know that senior management would prefer you to take the most cost effective option and investigate yourself.

I’ve always liked the saying ‘I’m not rich enough to buy cheap stuff’. Whoever coined the phrase understood the inherent wisdom of paying more in the short term to save money in the long term. This principal is equally sound in weighing up the options for undertaking a workplace investigation. But, like any risk management measure, the benefits of prevention are difficult to quantify and, therefore, justify. It’s difficult to convince the decision makers that spending $20,000 on an external team of workplace investigations specialists might, just might, save the organisation ten times that amount.

The archives of the Fair Work Commission and its judicial predecessors are bursting with cautionary tales involving organisations that neglected to adhere to this principal in the desire to save a buck.

Such was the case for one company ordered to pay $296,650 in damages to a sacked state manager who was drunk at a conference. The evidence of intoxication was clear. An internal investigation recommended the manager be dismissed for gross misconduct. The court disagreed. The standard of proof, weighed alongside contractual issues and company policy wording, revealed a flawed process of enquiry, indefensible findings and a sound case for unfair dismissal.

In 7 out of 10 cases in which we are called in to investigate, we find that an attempt has previously been made to investigate internally. In many cases, due to incorrect methodology, there is little we can do to salvage the situation. There have been many instances where the evidence clearly supports instant dismissal but the investigation methodology is so flawed, that any sort of disciplinary action would be indefensible.

The lesson learned here is, spend now to save later – just maybe.

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