External workplace investigator – What do you want me to do?

It is important that when you engage an external workplace investigator you are clear about what you want them to do and what final output you are expecting.

From the outset let me explain what I mean by output, it is what type of final report do you want. The options are;

  1. A short report – generally this provides an overview of the evidence, interviews with some basic findings and recommendations.

A short report is often used as a preliminary report or an interim report and may be used to detail the investigation up to a certain stage.

It is generally assumed that the reader has knowledge of the matter and is usually the person who has engaged the investigator in the first place

  1. Full report – This is a report that fully details, considers and evaluates the evidence provided by complainant/s, witnesses and respondents and any other evidence gather during the course of the investigation.

The full or final report are written so that a person, possibly a decision maker who has not previous knowledge of the matter is able to fully understand the who, what, when, when, why and how of the investigation.

Regardless of what type of report you want as an employer engaging an external workplace investigator there are certain additional things to consider, do you want;

  1. Just the facts
  2. The facts plus findings based on the complaint/s or allegations
  3. The facts, finding plus recommendations.

When I am engaged as an external investigator I ask for a letter of engagement and a Terms of Reference (ToR) for the investigation.

The ToR will tell me what you want me to do, for example;

  • Conduct an unbiased investigation into complaints made by X against Y
  • Provide a report (see above re what type of report)
  • Detail the methodology used during the investigation.

The ToR may also set;

  • Timelines, milestones or completion dates.
  • Details of witnesses to be interviewed
  • Details of other evidence known at the time
  • Details of any concurrent investigations that may have a bearing such as IT analysis.

The ToR may include some technical details such as

  • Who is the first point of contact in the organisation during the course of the investigation.
  • Who the report is to be sent to.
  • That the report is required to be signed and dated.

A property constructed ToR gives me as an investigator a clear understanding of what is required.

In many cases when I ask for a ToR my clients do not understand what I need. In those cases, I provide a template and discuss their requirements in detail before they provide me with the final ToR.

Communications problems can occur when a clear ToR is not provided.  At times I am engaged by other investigation firms for various reasons including them are not based in NSW or that they may not have the required skills or capacity to conduct the investigation. In these cases, I have tend to have limited access to the actual clients as they are protecting their interest with the client and in these cases most of my instructions are verbal, often despite requests for a ToR.

In one recent case I received verbal instructions from the investigation company and further verbal instructions from three members of the client HR team and importantly instructions from one member of the HR in regard to only requiring a preliminary report outlining the evidence from the initial round of interview only, but not detailing the witness evidence from transcripts of interview or the provision of the transcript.

No ToR was forthcoming, and the preliminary report was provided as per the instructions.

Following the provision of the report which was clearly marked ‘Preliminary Report’ I received feedback from the client organisation via the investigation company that one of the other HR team members was disappointed in the report. This is a very good reason to have a clear ToR at the start of an investigation.

External workplace investigator – Lesson for employers

  • Be clear about that you want
  • If you are not sure discuss this with the investigator

The author Phil O’Brien is a highly experienced and skilled workplace investigator and trainer who can take the stress out of conducting workplace investigations into bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and other forms of misconduct.

You can contact me on 02 9674 4279 or phil@awpti.com.au

AWPTI can assist you with a range of investigation and training services – www.awpti.com.au

This is general information only. It does not replace advice from a qualified workplace investigator in your state or territory.  It is recommended that should you encounter issues in the workplace that you seek advice from suitability qualified and experienced workplace investigators.

AWPTI – workplace investigation Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Misconduct investigations, bullying investigations, harassment investigations & sexual harassment investigations, complaint investigations, grievance investigations, discrimination investigations


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