An important shift is occurring in the way employers should undertake workplace investigations. When investigating circumstances that involve sensitive matters such as allegations of harassment, following risk management and harm minimisation strategies are particularly important. Such strategies can better ensure that an employers’ health and safety obligations are being met.
- Employers should look with a ‘safety lens’ when conducting workplace investigations;
- Maintaining a safe environment for all employees is critical; and
- Employers should ensure that internal workplace investigations are conducted thoroughly and sensitively, in order to meet critical safety and health obligations.
Investigations in the Workplace
It is essential that a safe environment is fostered in the workplace, which involves putting systems in place that seek to minimise the possibility of causing harm to employees, and others in the workplace. Further, workplaces need to provide for, and encourage employees to come forward where they feel unsafe. This includes not only because of a perceived unsafe workplace practice, but also any perceived unsafe actions of others in the workplace, such as harassment or bullying.
Sensitive investigative matters
In order to meet safety and health obligations, employers must appropriately manage such serious and sensitive matters. Following the recommendations arising out of the ‘Respect@Work Report 2020’, it is important that employers are aware of the complexities around protecting employees’ health and safety during such investigations. Employers and investigators are encouraged to ensure a ‘victim-centric approach’ is maintained, which considers the safety and wellbeing of the alleged victim wherever possible.
To achieve this, employers should be conscious of:
- The complainant’s mental state, and his or her ability at the time to engage in the investigatory process;
- Any mental health and psychological risks that might arise; and
- How questions are phrased, and how they are delivered.
Conduct throughout investigations
The process of workplace investigations necessarily involves asking intrusive and individual questions. An employer’s concern should not stop at ensuring privacy and confidentiality are maintained. Workplace investigations must be conducted sensitively, and in a way which seeks to instil a sense of safety and trust for the complainant. For investigators, this may look like:
- Planning key questions;
- Asking one question at a time;
- Staying neutral in tone;
- Confirming and clarifying what the complainant is saying; and
- Providing support to the investigators, such as a debriefing service where appropriate.
Dealing with complaints of a sensitive nature such as workplace harassment can be complex and confusing for both the complainant and the investigator, and it is crucial that employers understand their roles and duties. Fostering an environment in which employees can feel safe in raising complaints, and confident that they will be properly investigated will go a long way in resolving sensitive workplace issues, and potentially preventing an escalation of any such issues.
If you require assistance in relation to any of the above information, our Employment Team can provide advice to you and your business in navigating these complexities and to minimise future risk. Contact Libbi, Julie or Max today by clicking here, or call us on (08) 6188 3340.