4 questions to ask before appointing an external workplace investigator

Sarah Somerset
October 26, 2016

Workplace investigations can be costly, time-consuming and difficult matters and, if not well managed, can lead to significant management, legal and/or reputational problems for an organisation.

There are numerous reasons why it may be advisable to appoint an external investigator rather than to deal with the matter internally, particularly when the matter is complex, sensitive and/or very serious. The appointment of the right external investigator will ensure the matter is handled with independence, speed, credibility and the necessary skill level.

In making the decision as to which external investigator to appoint however, here are four questions you should consider asking:


1. Is investigation really the best option?


Sometimes, a full-blown investigation may not actually be necessary or advisable in the circumstances. For example, if the issues raised are not particularly serious or longstanding and/or are unlikely to be able to be proven, it may be better to attempt to resolve them at first instance by more informal means, such as coaching, a facilitated discussion between the parties and/or a mediation (assuming your policies allow that approach).

A good external investigator should be ready to proceed promptly and competently with a formal investigation, but should also recognise when it is better to save time, money and potential emotional distress by exploring other available avenues and even offering alternative services, at the outset.


2. Do you have the time, right resources and skills?


It is advisable to ask a potential investigator to provide details about their relevant experience, in order to ensure they can meet your requirements. This may include asking them to discuss the number of investigations they have undertaken, the sectors they have worked in and the types of issues they have encountered.

It is also recommended that you check the investigator’s availability, keeping in mind that there are a number of reasons why an investigation may encounter unexpected delays, including participant availability and health concerns. This is particularly an issue if you are considering appointing a sole operator, whose own leave arrangements and/or competing work assignments may impact on their ability to undertake and finalise your matter within a reasonable timeframe.


3. Is your investigation process procedurally fair?


It is essential that any workplace investigation is conducted in a procedurally fair manner to support informed decision-making and ensure that the results will not subsequently be overturned by a court or tribunal. It is therefore advisable to ensure that your potential investigator’s proposed process:

  • Gives the respondent appropriate notice of the investigation and allegations;
  • Gives both parties a supported, confidential and reasonable opportunity to have their say;
  • Collects and considers all relevant evidence;
  • Is not biased or perceived to be biased; and
  • Acts diligently and promptly.


4. What value can you add post-investigation?


Investigations are often the tip of the iceberg, dealing with specific incidents that are mere manifestations of more deep-seated individual, team or organisational concerns. If an external investigator has done a thorough job, he or she should have gained a sound understanding of the context within which the investigation was conducted, and will be able to identify and discuss the broader issues facing your organisation.

It is therefore worthwhile considering whether your proposed investigator is also able to make recommendations on strategies to address these broader issues and whether they can deliver supporting services, such as remedial training, team-building activities, HR policy or values development and/or organisational reviews, and thereby prevent future investigations being required.

As you can see, there are a number of factors to take into consideration to ensure that you appoint the best external workplace investigator for the job. We wish you every success in your decision-making!


About Sarah Somerset


Sarah Somerset


Sarah Somerset is Worklogic’s Investigations Officer, focussed on supporting our consultants in the analysis of claims and the reporting of external workplace investigation findings. Sarah has significant experience in legal, consulting and human resource management roles. Worklogic works with employers to resolve workplace conflict and build a positive culture at work. We have a proven track record for conducting effective external investigations.


Worklogic also offers HR consulting services and training courses. Our next day workshop “Conducting Workplace Investigations” will be held in Brisbane on 15 November and Melbourne on 24 November from 9am to 5pm. Register now for just $750 per person (exclusing GST).  If you have any questions about these workshop, please contact Danielle Calder or call 03 9981 6500.

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