Four top tips for disciplinary and grievance investigations

Melanie Morton offers a step-by-step guide for employers on conducting effective workplace inquiries

Credit: Julius Adamek/EyeEm/Getty Images

Preparing to investigate

Be clear on purpose: a fair and balanced investigation seeks to establish what happened, considering all of the evidence, whether good or bad. 

Choose an investigator: they should be fair and objective, independent of any grievance or disciplinary procedure that might follow and be able to address matters promptly.

Establish remit: are you just fact finding? Are you making recommendations? Is a report required? Your disciplinary and grievance policies will shape your approach. Establish what evidence there might be – documents, CCTV, emails, text messages – and where it might be found.

Guidance for fact-finding interviews

Use a note taker: a note should be taken of any investigation meeting by someone who can keep it confidential. If a physical note taker isn’t available, consider recording the interview. 

In person if possible: body language and eye contact can be revealing, so interviewing face to face is best; you will miss some body language in a video meeting, but remote meetings are an option if you are unable to meet someone in person. 

Prepare in advance: write out questions as you will ask them, in order. Avoid asking leading questions or asking several things at once. Set out the areas you need answers to separately. Use this to bring an interview back if it goes off track and to check that you have the information you need before the end. Allow sufficient time. 

Witness arrangements: witnesses don’t have a legal right to be accompanied at an investigation meeting, but you can exercise your discretion. If somebody has a disability or there's a language barrier and they need someone to assist them, accommodate that. Anonymity should only be granted in exceptional circumstances; for example, where a witness has a genuine fear of reprisals and this can be evidenced. 

Confidentiality: a simple warning telling interviewees not to discuss the matter is sufficient. Tell witnesses that covert recording will be treated as a disciplinary matter and, if it is a video meeting, ask them to confirm that no one else is present. 

Agree a record: give the witness time to read the meeting notes and sign to confirm that they represent a true and accurate record. If a witness wants to make lots of changes, you can meet with them again or hold two pieces of evidence: the note of the meeting and the witness’s amended record.

Assessing the evidence

Draw up a table: organise the evidence alongside the issues or allegations to see where the weight of evidence lies and to spot any outliers. 

Corroborating evidence: if you have several witnesses saying the same thing but one with a different story, you may go with the weight of evidence.

Witness credibility: is there any reason to doubt a witness? Were they consistent and frank? Take into account the visual cues you saw during the interview and whether they were evasive. Consider relationships and the language used – did two or more witnesses use very similar wording to describe events? 

Inherent probabilities: how likely does a version of events sound?

Formatting an investigation report

Introduction: include who the investigator is, an overview of how the investigation came about – for example, on date X person received a complaint from Y relating to Z – and its remit. 

Cast list: give full names and job titles of all witnesses and relevant people. Refer to them consistently throughout; for example, Joe Bloggs, site manager (JB). 

Methodology: describe what steps you took, including who was interviewed and when. Explain any limitations, such as people you could not speak to or evidence that was not available and how you tried to try to get that evidence. 

Findings: use the table you collated to explain what the evidence showed. What has been established? What is still in dispute? 

Conclusion: recommendations have no boundaries but could include proceeding to a disciplinary, dealing with the matter informally, or providing support such as mediation. The conclusion must be objective, focused on the facts and should not draw any conclusions on conduct or recommend a sanction. 

Appendices: collate all of the documents referred to in the report.

Melanie Morton is an employment managing associate at Freeths