How do I carry out a disciplinary investigation?

magnifying-glass-detectiveQuestion: We are a small, specialist company making items to customer specifications mainly for the corporate gifts market. Recently a member of staff was suspected of having stolen several high value items from our production floor. He denies this and has been suspended meantime. His manager has asked me (I manage our finance function) to carry out a disciplinary investigation. Where do I start?!

Don’t worry – there is no expectation that you will need to act like Sherlock Holmes! You just need to carry out a methodical examination of the facts of the case, speak to any witnesses (including the accused employee) and then produce a report stating whether, in your opinion, the case should proceed to a formal disciplinary hearing of not.

Here is a checklist that you can follow to ensure you don’t forget to do anything:

 

 

Preparing for the investigation

  • Speak to the individual who has asked you to undertake the investigation to get the background, visit any locations and read any documentation which may be available to you concerning the case.
  • Where evidence is likely to fade, disappear, be removed or destroyed this should be gathered / copied / photographed as an immediate priority and placed under lock and key.
  • Consider if you need to obtain any other “expert” opinions (e.g. an auditor in the case of suspected fraud, or an IT expert in the case of internet misuse).
  • Think about any witnesses who you need to interview and in what order, then make a list of any questions you want to ask them.
  • Consider whether you need additional support e.g. another manager or administrative support and arrange this.
  • Arrange an appropriate venue for the interviews ensuring this is away from the main work area and not in an open area or a room with expansive glass areas allowing observers to see what is going on. Consider booking an external venue if there is nothing suitable in the work location.
  • Contact the accused employee, the witnesses and any “experts” you have decided on and schedule meeting dates and times. Give them at least 5 days notice where possible and ask them to confirm their attendance.
  • If any witnesses refuse to come to an interview ask them for a written statement.
  • Ensure the accused employee is aware of their right to representation (work colleague or trade union representative), is clear about the allegation against them and has access to any relevant documents or evidence (if sensitive let them know this will be available on the day). Put all this in a confidential letter or email to them.

Interviewing witnesses

Introduction

  • Each witness should be interviewed individually.
  • Formally introduce yourself (and anyone else in the room) and explain why you are carrying out an investigation.
  • Clarify that your role is to establish the facts only and not to make a judgement about what happened.
  • Emphasise that you expect the witness to be completely honest in all they say.
  • Outline the requirement for them to keep what is discussed confidential.
  • Advise that a note of their statement will be provided for them after the meeting and they will be asked to confirm accuracy. They will also have the opportunity to amend these if required.
  • Advise that their statement will potentially be shared with the employee accused of misconduct, their representative (if they have one) and company management.
  • Advise them that they can ask for a break for any reason if they feel they need it.

Questions to the Witness

  • Firstly ask the witness to tell you what they know of the circumstances of the alleged misconduct in their own words.
  • Work through the list of questions you have prepared for the witness; however be prepared to ask further questions depending on their answers.
  • Stay focused on the specific allegations and the facts relevant to the case.
  • Try to separate facts from assumptions and whether the witness likes / dislikes the accused.
  • Reflect back to the witness your understanding of what they have said; summarise regularly (without putting words in their mouth!)

Ending the interview

  • Ask them if there is anything else relevant to this case that they wish to add.
  • Tell them you will let them have a note of their statement within 2 to 3 days and that they should read this and sign it as accurate if they are happy with it (they will receive 2 copies they should sign both and return one to you and retain one for themselves). If they are not happy with the content, then they should make any amendments and let you have this back. You will then discuss these changes with them.
  • Ask if the employee is aware of any other witnesses or relevant evidence that they think you should be aware of.
  • Thank them for attending and just reinforce the need for confidentiality and the fact that they should not discuss any aspect of the investigation with another party.

The outcome of the investigation

Write up witness statements (use a witness statement template for consistency) and send these out to be confirmed and signed.

  • After seeing all the witnesses, collate all the evidence and statements.
  • Consider all the facts you have collected, reject invalid or irrelevant material, and come to one of the following conclusions:
    1. there is no significant case to answer and so no further action is necessary
    2. misconduct did take place but some action short of disciplinary action is more appropriate (for example some further training)
    3. there is sufficient evidence in support of the allegations to warrant the case proceeding to a disciplinary hearing
  • Complete an investigation report.
  • Discuss the outcome with the individual who commissioned the investigation with a view to informing the employee of the outcome and considering any immediate impact on the business.

That’s really all there is to it. You then just need to be prepared to attend any subsequent disciplinary hearing to explain your findings.

You can download a Word copy of this checklist here. If you want any further information, then everything you need to know about the disciplinary process, including dozens of letter and report templates, is available in our ebook. We charge £4.99 for this which goes to keeping all our other resources free. However if you just need some templates email me (alexbrogan@human-resource-solutions.co.uk) and I’ll let you have them free of charge.

 

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