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Getting to the bottom of it: How to choose the best person to conduct an investigation

Employment tribunals received 186,300 claims during 2011-12, which represents a fall of 15 per cent on the number received the previous year. Analysts suggest that this number would decrease even further if greater care was taken at the outset in how grievances or disciplinary matters are investigated.

It's crucial to pick the right person to conduct the investigation. This may be specified in an organisation's internal disciplinary procedures, but often the task falls to the employee's line manager. A little forward thinking at this stage will pay dividends. It's best that the person who conducts the investigation is not the same person to lead any potential disciplinary hearings.

In smaller organisations, the pool of employees may not be large enough to avoid this problem. If this is genuinely the case, then an employment tribunal should take this into account when assessing the fairness of the employer's disciplinary procedure. Still, it makes sense for employers to do their best to anticipate any situations that may be construed as partial or unfair and act accordingly.

The investigator will need to know how to ask the right questions. Being able to navigate through difficult interviews and interpret and understand the evidence takes skill and confidence. It's not always straightforward, for instance, for an investigator to identify the difference between banter, bullying and harassment.

The results of an investigation that is not conducted - or perceived to be conducted - in a fair and reasonable way are far more likely to be challenged.

Acas has not only written the pdf  Acas Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance [167kb], but also provides extensive training on how best to conduct Investigations, with advice on how to approach interviews and how to write up investigation reports.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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