1.1 Fact-finding investigations
Fact finding investigation soften arise where an employer becomes aware of information that could be suggestive of wrong-doing on the part of an employee. Rather than jump to conclusions best practice requires an investigation to establish facts upon which the employer cam base further action including disciplinary action where appropriate. The results of fact-finding investigations can also be useful in assessing practice and procedures being implemented in the business.
In one such instance an employer became aware of assistance being provided by an employee in the form of professional expertise and services to other businesses in circumstances where those other businesses were not listed as clients. Beo solutions was tasked with a number of specific questions to establish whether the employee was, in fact, providing the assistance to each of the named businesses and if so was this undertaken on official time and on official technology and hardware.
A full download of all of the employee’s emails was provided along with a forensic report in respect of the employee’s email activity.
Beo Solutions undertook the investigation and provided the employer with the responses to the questions asked in a detailed and precise report with the additional benefit of the information being presented in tabular form
The report presented the information in a way that enabled easy interpretation and provided clarity on whether further disciplinary action to be taken by the employer.
On receipt of the report the employer was in a position to clearly identify whether disciplinary action was appropriate without further delay.
1.1 Dignity at Work Investigations
1.1.1 Bullying Allegations
Investigations into bullying allegations are undertaken in accordance with the employer’s policy document as this is what the employee is entitled to rely upon. Where an employer does not have an appropriate policy then our investigations are based on the Codes of Practice.
We recently undertook an investigation into allegations by a member of the clients Senior Management Team against another member of the team and against the CEO. As nobody in the organisation could undertake the investigation in accordance with best practice, and without being seen as having a potential bias in favour of the CEO, it was considered appropriate to outsource the investigation to Beo Solutions.
The Chairman, on receipt of the report, was fully informed as to each incident complained of, whether it occurred, was capable of constituting the behaviour complained of, whether it was upheld and if the behaviour was repeated. On receipt of the report the next steps were clear to the employer.
1.1.2 Allegations of sexual harassment
Beo Solutions was asked to undertake an investigation into very sensitive and quite serious allegations of sexual harassment which allegedly occurred during the Christmas Party and which was causing considerable disruption to operations for the employer. Bernadette’s extensive expertise in this area as a result of her experience in the Equality Tribunal was hugely useful in this case.
The investigation was handled with appropriate haste and sensitivity while ensuring the rights of parties at all times. The resulting succinct but reasoned report provided clarity for the employer who was in a position to deal with a very difficult situation promptly.
Where any particular difficulties arise for you in respect of an investigation please let us know at the outset so that we can work together to ensure the matter is progressed appropriately and fairly.
2. Disciplinary Procedures
Where investigations are complete and further action is necessary employers approach Beo Solutions to undertake the disciplinary hearings and report in circumstances where the necessary expertise is not held in-house, where there are no remaining managers of appropriate seniority to undertake the process, or where allegations of bias have been made.
We undertook a disciplinary hearing of a senior manager who was also director of the employer business. The disciplinary hearing was in respect of his employment only.
Both the manager and employer required legal representation at the hearing and evidence was taken from a number of witnesses. Bernadette’s expertise as an Equality Officer having chaired quasi-judicial hearings for many years was invaluable.
The result was a process that both parties were content with in terms of procedures adopted which fluidly progressed the matter for the employer.
By far the most common reason for mediation in the workplace, in our experience, is interpersonal difficulties among senior management team (SMT) members. (The second most common is settlement mediation surrounding the termination of an employment.) Mediation of course can work for employees at all levels in an organisation and the transformation that takes place in the parties, and their positions in particular, as a result of their greater understanding of the other party’s situation is amazing to behold but happens quite naturally during the process.
This brief look at just three of our recent cases will be useful for those of you who are embroiled in managing workplace disputes.
In the first case, the employer was concerned about the behaviour of both parties towards each other in the workplace, believing it could potentially lead to a requirement for disciplinary action even in the absence of a complaint from either of them. The employer particularly wanted the employees to understand how serious the inappropriate behaviour was and could become. The company had provided the parties with the appropriate policy documents and wanted to invest in the parties in order to resolve the situation. After a lengthy and difficult discussion during the mediation a greater understanding of the pressures the other was operating under was arrived at by each, as well as explanations of behaviours and preferred responses, and a plan was created for future “situations”.
The second case related to two SMT members who had reached the point where communication had effectively ceased between them causing considerable difficulties for staff of their units and for the conduct of business generally. Following a difficult working through of the incidents in dispute the parties, now each understanding the others’ situation and intentions, agreed a plan going forward. But this case was particularly rewarding as the greater understanding achieved by both of them had reputedly led to them acting as supports for each other, and advocates almost, at SMT meetings.
The third case involved a situation where one senior manager who was coping with a recent serious diagnosis found the behaviour of a direct line manager unacceptable on many levels. As with the previous cases the parties had bedded down into their respective positions with the line manager almost afraid to engage with the direct report who was in turn quite a senior manager in any event.
Common difficulties include a fear (for the ‘accused’) that “even if this situation is resolved what is to stop this person wrongly accusing me again” and (for the complainant) a believe/fear that negative feedback is being given to senior managers in the organisation without the person’s knowledge. These are genuine fears that people in such situation can have and you ignore them at your peril in a mediation process.
The parties in these cases resolved their difficulties and agreed a plan of action to avoid difficulties going forward.
What all of the cases had in common was that the employers considered each employee as a valued employee even where occasionally the foibles of an individual were recognised. Interestingly, while each employer was keen to ensure compliance with best practice it has been refreshing to note a genuine intention to resolve these situations for the good of all concerned, including the organisation’s of course, rather than simply tick a box.
This service is indespensible to any organisation whose HR function identifies a gap requiring support in respect of employee relations or where independent support is required.
One client, with a relatively large HR function, has recently completed the training of 12 investigators and has signed up for help desk support so that the investigators have a contact point that is independent of HR. The client sees this as a very valuable support for investigators that removes the possibility of any allegations of interference in the investigations by HR. (See UK Case Ramphal v Department of Transport)
Another client has a small HR function for a workforce of 500 employees distributed nationwide. Recently three seemingly disenfranchised but unrelated employees individually raised various issues with HR that incorporated grievances and complaints against colleagues wrapped up in issues of disability. The client recognised that these individuals required specialized management particularly in relation to the potential equality (disability) issues. The expertise was not available in-house to extricate the various issues that were contained in the lengthy and (in the case of one employee) often incoherent complaints. It was noted that these employees were taking up over 75% of HR time.
The client signed up for our helpline and were able to secure assistance at short notice on the grievance processes, investigation processes and disability/sick-leave issues that were ongoing with these employees each time a new issue arose. Guidance was provided in respect of whether processes can proceed given the latest sick certificates received with assistances on how to respond to the very lengthy, often rambling sometimes almost incoherent emails. In addition, support was provided in respect of what action is necessary in each individual case to ensure compliance with Humphries v Westwood Fitness case.
On average the client used three hours per month with only occasional spikes when managers unfamiliar with such processes needed independent guidance.
Beo Solutions provides training in respect of employee relations situations and our list can be found here. The training can be provided in-house where the training is required for a number of individuals. Where only one of two people require the training then our open training sessions are ideal. There is a significant reduction for existing clients and beneficial rates can be discussed for in-house training.
We recently completed an in-house two-day Investigation Training customised to the needs of the client. Following discussions seeking clarity around exactly what was required the training was customised to those needs and to the in-house policies resulting in a group of senior managers immediately available to conduct investigations for the organisation in accordance with their policies. The participants learned how to plan for an investigation, and for each interview, and during role-plays they learned the extraordinary difference such planning makes to the quality of the information gathered. They also experienced the preparation of a report and how to ensure that it complies with best practice and is presented in such a way that is fair to parties and useful to the organisation.