Carrying out effective investigations

Before dismissing an employee there is a requirement to carry out a full investigation. However, employers are often unsure what a ‘full investigation’ might be.

In an employment tribunal judgment against Poundland, a Store Manager was dismissed for allegedly stealing a drink from a store. In investigating the matter CCTV evidence was shown of the employee carrying a drinks bottle, but there was nothing else – no CCTV footage which might have shown her taking the bottle was examined, Witness statements were not checked and till receipts were not accessed. The decision to dismiss was based on one person’s allegations. Unsurprisingly the employee was successful in her claim of unfair dismissal and was awarded just under £21,000 in compensation.

It is important to start an investigation by considering what information is needed to get to the crux of the matter.  Is there some evidence that would make it clear whether an employee has done what is alleged? Would this evidence include witness statements, CCTV footage, evidence from computerised systems?

Then evaluate the evidence and think about what else this has led to. Is there something else that is now needed to establish further facts?

Check who was witness to the events. Take witness statements from them all. It is also important to take witness statements from people who may have been present but who did not see anything. Why did they see nothing if they were there? Was it because there was nothing to see, and the allegations are false?

When you have gathered your evidence, then determine whether there is an issue to address. When the employee is invited to any disciplinary meeting, ensure that they are given a copy of all the evidence that the employer is going to rely on.

During the disciplinary, if it emerges that the employee has conflicting evidence, decide whether further investigation is needed,

Finally, remember that the requirement is to decide on the balance of probabilities, if the employee did as accused. There is not a requirement to prove that the employee is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.

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