The importance of impartiality in workplace investigations

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In this insight our experts explain why it is critical that workplace investigations are conducted with impartiality and are undertaken in a ‘fair’ and ‘objective’ manner.

According to the Collins Dictionary: “Someone who is impartial is not directly involved in a particular situation, and is therefore able to give a fair opinion or decision about it.” An investigator’s primary role is to fact-find in an impartial manner. The investigator gathers the evidence concerning the issue which has been raised, whether this relates to a disciplinary matter, grievance or someone who has ‘blown the whistle’.

However, concerns are often raised when an investigator is appointed by an employer. Examples include:

  • How can the investigator be impartial when they are appointed by the employer where the issue has been raised?
  • How will the investigator truly have an open mind?
  • Will the investigator feel free or confident to come to a conclusion in their report which the employer may not like?
  • Will the investigator present the evidence in a manner which is not biased?
  • What if the concerns relate to someone senior in the business – does the investigator have sufficient seniority?
  • Does the investigator have the necessary experience and skills to carry out the investigation in an impartial manner?
  • Do they have time to take this seriously and carry out a thorough investigation?
  • Does the investigator have a conflict of interests?

When dealing with serious allegations, such as sexual harassment or whistleblowing, often the employee raising the concern may have done so reluctantly. They may be fearful about how the employer will react, potential reprisals or whether they will be believed. Similarly, an employee who is accused of wrongdoing may be concerned that they will not have the opportunity to defend themselves.

Appointing an impartial investigator is the first step in ensuring that any such workplace investigation is conducted in a manner which provides reassurance to those who are accusing and those who are accused. An investigator needs to ensure everyone involved is treated with respect and fairly and that the investigation is approached with an open mind.

Employers must also be mindful that an impartial investigation is a key consideration for Tribunals when determining employment law claims; ACAS are clear that an investigation must be ‘fair’ and ‘objective’.

Failure to ensure impartiality, or the suggestion of pre-judgment, can result in the entire process, whether a disciplinary or grievance process, being deemed unfair. This can lead to:

  • employment law claims
  • wasted management time
  • disengaged employees
  • a workplace potentially full of conflict
  • a negative impact on reputation (both internally and externally).

If you are concerned about whether you have the ability to carry out an impartial investigation, whether this is because you are a small company with limited individuals who can carry it out, or a senior employee is involved, or simply because of time pressures, our workplace investigations experts can support.

We have experienced, skilled investigators who can mobilise quickly. Using Gateley’s investigators means that you can be reassured that there will be no inference that the investigation is not impartial, and in fact, you can confidently advise any individuals involved that the investigation will be impartial.

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