How to cull misconduct allegations to those that really matter- a Preliminary Assessment approach.

Storm Carnie
July 21, 2021

Managing complaints about workplace misconduct is never an easy task. The process is usually accompanied by high emotions, personal and professional impacts and risks, and of course, a very real need to prioritise an organisational response.

However, it doesn’t have to be an ‘all or nothing’ approach when it comes to decisions about workplace investigations. A Preliminary Assessment of the initial complaint can help guide decision-makers in devising an efficient, clear, and well-informed way forward before commencing a workplace investigation or an alternative resolution method.  

What is a Preliminary Assessment?

A Preliminary Assessment into alleged workplace misconduct can be particularly useful when complaints arise that are vague, loquacious, lacking in specificity, and/or cover a large number of incidents.

A Preliminary Assessment is an exploratory review of the complaint to determine:

  • Whether any actionable allegations exist;
  • The particulars of any extractable allegations (the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ of the alleged behaviour or conduct);
  • The substance of the complaint and the existence of meaningful lines of enquiry;
  • The significance of the behaviours alleged;
  • What the allegation might mean for the organisation or individual/s if the conduct is found ‘proven’; and
  • The most appropriate and effective way to address the complaint from an organisational perspective.

How to determine which allegations to progress under a Workplace Investigation and which to cull?

An important point often overlooked by decision-makers is that just because an allegation has been raised, it does not necessarily mean that it must be investigated under a full, formal Workplace Investigation. Decision-makers should give attention to a number of considerations and options during a Preliminary Assessment before making a decision on the best way forward. First and foremost, the health and safety of the individuals involved needs to be carefully considered, along with an assessment of business risk, benefit of determined resolution, costs, and time.

A Preliminary Assessment will determine whether any of the allegations raised have prima facie probative value and have enough specificity to ensure procedural fairness if put to an individual for response. The assessment may also take into account the desires of the complainant about how they think the matter can be best resolved for them. When having regard to those things, a number of allegations raised might be reasonably culled from the scope of any subsequent formal workplace investigation.   

Importantly, consideration should also be given to the volume of allegations and the significance of each of the allegations raised during the Preliminary Assessment. Take the following example:

A complaint has been raised which includes thirty allegations about an individual, with ten of those likely to constitute serious misconduct if found proven. The remainder of the allegations appear, on face value, to be isolated instances of incompatible behaviour likely to amount to minor breaches of your Code of Conduct.

When having regard to the benefits and risks of putting all thirty allegations to your respondent, it may be more effective, efficient, and safety conscious to progress a selection of allegations to formal workplace investigation based on the significance of the reported conduct and the potential for any resulting disciplinary action.

What about the allegations that have been culled?

Matters which might not be in the best interest of the business and individuals to progress to a workplace investigation shouldn’t be left by the wayside either. While not always achievable, aim for procedural satisfaction in your complaints process from the individuals by acknowledging and addressing the concerns raised. Alternative methods of resolution to workplace investigations which could be considered include:

  • Mediation
  • Coaching
  • Culture review
  • Training
  • Clarifications of work duties and roles
  • Team building activities with a focus on organisational values; and
  • Reviewing and adjusting feedback frameworks, workflows, or communication for improvement.         

Can we help?

It can be very helpful to talk about the workplace issue your organisation is experiencing with someone who has expertise in this space, before deciding on the most appropriate strategy to address the issue at hand. If your organisation is limited in time, in-house expertise or is experiencing any other constraints, Worklogic is here to help.

Our expert consultants have conducted thousands of workplace investigations, preliminary assessments, mediations, and culture reviews and provide astute, practical advice to companies of all shapes and sizes. We’ve seen it all before – and we’d love to share our knowledge to help you and your business thrive.

Worklogic offers obligation-free, confidential consultations to help you make the most informed decision on the best way to address your workplace issue. To book your obligation free, confidential discussion with one of our consultants, get in contact, briefly describing the workplace situation you need assistance with.

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Integrity Line is an independent whistleblower service for complaints about inappropriate conduct at work, provided by Worklogic. Click here to visit the Integrity Line website.