An employer’s (simple) guide to workplace investigations

Sonia Chandra

The following should not be considered legal advice and is for general use only.

Understanding your obligations when conducting workplace investigations can save you a lot of hassle and pain in the long run.  

Workplace investigations sound simple and straightforward – an issue arises, you speak to the people involved to get to the ‘bottom of it’, and then you make a decision as to the outcome(s).  

Unfortunately, in reality there are a few more procedural considerations to be aware of. This is why it’s important to adopt a holistic approach to workplace investigations. Failure to take the right steps can open your business up to potential legal challenges from employees while also destroying workplace morale and productivity.  

Procedural Requirements 

There are various factors to consider when managing or preparing to manage a workplace investigation. We have outlined some simple steps below which can be used as a starting point, but please note this list is not exhaustive, nor should it be interpreted as legal advice. 

  1. Identify the issue and make a plan for the entire process, such as key individuals (both of whom will be interviewed and whom will conduct the investigation), key evidence, timeframes and how the findings of the investigation will be recorded and later presented.  
  2. Have clear written allegations, an outline of the process that will be followed, anticipated timeframes, and other support that an affected individual will have access to.  
  3. Communicate with parties involved and take detailed notes of when, where and what was said and discussed.  
  4. Consider all of the evidence and prepare findings. You can always speak to parties again if certain aspects are unclear or there are gaps in understanding responses.  
  5. Present findings to the parties involved and provide them with a reasonable amount of time to respond.  
  6. Consider further responses and then present parties involved with final findings and outcomes.  

At times, especially in smaller workplaces, there might not be sufficient resources to manage the investigation process. Additionally, the conduct and issue that requires investigation may call for a greater degree of independence to avoid and mitigate any risks relating to impartiality and claims of procedural unfairness. This is why it can be beneficial to seek external support from legal advisors or  workplace investigators who can assist employers through this process.  

Things to avoid  

At times, things don’t always go to plan. When they don’t, there’s still a good chance of rectifying them, but the key is to identify any shortfalls early and be transparent about resolving the issues identified.  


  • Go rogue. If there are workplace policies and procedures that outline grievance or disciplinary procedures, follow them. If for some reason they cannot be followed, such as the process outlined didn’t take into account a key issue, inform the parties involved for the reason of deviating from such processes and procedures.  
  • Be vague. All parties involved need to understand what the concern is, what the conduct of concern is, and how these concerns are linked or related to expected behaviours or conduct. 
  • Provide limited information. Give as much detail as possible; this will ensure a smooth process with limited to no delays in receiving responses.  
  • Give someone 24 hours to respond to findings. Going through an investigation where someone is feeling like their job is at risk will be nerve-wracking and stressful. Employers should be compassionate and consider how the situation at hand might be impacting them personally. Mental health is important, and employers should offer and provide support where possible.  
  • Ignore the human element. If there are extensive and numerous allegations, give the individual a reasonable amount of time to respond to the allegations and also, to respond to the findings.  
  • Unreasonably refuse an individual to attend as a support person. This can be tricky because it may appear to be a delaying tactic on the part of the individual, but an unreasonable refusal to allow a support person may render a disciplinary outcome that leads to termination of employment, an unfair dismissal.  
  • Threaten individuals with disciplinary action or indicate a potential outcome before you have considered all the evidence and interviewed all parties involved.  
  • Be afraid to ask for help. Seek advice from professionals such as legal advisors or specific workplace investigators. 

How DKL can help 

As employment law specialists, we understand that workplace investigations can take a significant toll on a business and have far-reaching consequences. For this reason, it can be hugely beneficial to seek external support and guidance. 

If you have questions or concerns relating to workplace investigations, DKL is here to help. 

Our Workplace Investigations: Fundamentals for Employers is designed to support employers from start to finish of any investigation, including developing in-house capabilities and equipping current employees with the fundamental knowledge and skills to effectively manage investigations. 

The above should not be considered legal advice and is for general use only.