I received an urgent call from a client – the Managing Director of family run business. He said that he had conclusive evidence that one of his senior managers was stealing from the company, he wanted to sack him and it needed to be done quickly.
He explained that an employee had reported to him that he had purchased a high value product from the senior manager at cost price. The MD had interviewed the employee at length and he was convinced that the employee was telling the truth. The accused manager had worked all his life in the business and was a friend of the MD’s fathers. He had difficulty coming to terms with the situation and felt that the manager had betrayed the trust his family had placed in him.
I conducted a workplace investigation, which included interviews with the employee who reported the incident and I felt that the storey was credible. The accused manager was the last to be interviewed; I outlined the facts of the case as had been uncovered by the investigation and asked him to comment on the events.
The manager confirmed that the transaction reported by the employee had taken place. He went on to explain that he had set up a retail business 5 years previously with the full support of his employer. In fact, the MD’s father had provided him with stock items at cost to support the new venture. Unfortunately the start-up business failed and the manager was left with significant stock which he was unable to sell. After the closure of the retail outlet, he had been advertising the items in the local paper and selling the stock in bits and pieces. This was the explanation for the transaction reported by the employee.
The manager accepted that on first examination the circumstances were suspicious. It was important to suspend judgement to the investigation was complete, at no stage was the manager accused of theft.
Employers are legal obliged to conduct investigations in a variety of situations:
- Allegations of bullying or abusive behaviour – Employers are required to carry out a risk assessment, inform employees how to make a complaint and how the complaint will be investigated.
- In serious disciplinary cases it is often a requirement to investigate the circumstances before deciding the appropriate action.
- Serious accidents at work – the investigation should identify the cause of the accident and make recommendations to prevent future incidents
The employment policy should outline how the investigation will be conducted and the principles that will be applied – impartiality, sensitivity and confidentiality.
It is important that the investigator is seen to be an ‘honest broker’, to eliminate concern about bias and to ensure the credibility of the findings. It may be difficult to be impartial, particularly in smaller organisations where the manager knows or supervises all the employees.
It is human nature to form an opinion about alleged behavior or events, however the investigator curb that natural tendency and suspend judgement. From a legal view point a flawed investigation is worse than not conducting an investigation at all.
The investigator must also have the authority, skills and the time to conduct a thorough investigation, so it may be necessary to consider making an external appointment.
Identify the parties involved
As is highlighted in the storey, it may not be obvious who should be included in the process – consider potential witnesses or other victims of abuse. The parties may be reluctant to involve others, to avoid damaging friendships or fear of adverse consequences.
However, the investigator must be aware that to conduct a thorough investigation and arrive at a satisfactory conclusion it is important to interview all the relevant parties.
The participants should be assured that information will only be disclosed on a need to know basis and that that they will not be treated adversely or victimised
Confidentiality may be used to gain an interviewees trust, however, if the investigation results in disciplinary action the employee has a right to full disclosure of the case against him, including the identity of witnesses.
Deciding the outcome
The investigator must make findings based on facts, the statements available and the balance of probability.If the investigation concludes that there was a serious incident then consider the appropriate action.
Depending on the severity of the case there are a range of options; disciplinary action including dismissal; transfers, changing reporting relationships; counselling and training.
If you are facing a difficult workplace problem that needs investigation – contact me on 086 7886599
11th November 2015