Workplace investigations – Here's what you need to know

Workplace investigations – Here's what you need to know

Workplace investigations are a necessary, but often difficult task. As an employer,  you need to rely on the result of the investigation to decide upon disciplinary action.

The quality of a workplace investigation and what the employer did or did not do during the course of the investigation becomes important when an employee is terminated and that decision is later challenged by the employee.

You can carry out the investigation internally or you can use an external service. Using an external service provider can be a better option in some circumstances, particularly where allegations have been made against the Principal and questions of impartiality or bias might arise.

But irrespective of whether the investigation is carried out internally or externally, issues can still arise.

Case in point

A recent decision by the Fair Work Commission highlights the difficulty of conducting an investigation into alleged misconduct.

An employee working in a Salvation Army store was dismissed following an investigation into the alleged theft of money. The employee was serving a customer who wanted to purchase some furniture. The employee didn’t enter any sale and provided the customer a handwritten note indicating that she’d set the items aside for collection at a later time.

A week later, the customer arrived to pick up the furniture. He claimed he had paid $200 for the furniture, but there was no record of the sale. The Salvation Army investigated the claim, reviewing CCTV footage and also discussing the matter with both the employee and the customer.

Notwithstanding the employee’s denial that she’d received money from the customer, the CCTV footage showed her with at least $50 in her hand. The Salvation Army believed the customer’s account and determined that the employee had received the $200 from the customer.

The Salvation Army terminated the employee’s employment on the basis of serious misconduct; i.e. theft.

The Fair Work Commission found that the evidence demonstrated the employee was holding a $50 note in her hand, but it didn’t establish that she’d received that money from the customer. The Commission determined that the customer had not paid the employee for the furniture and, accordingly, hadn’t engaged in serious misconduct.

The termination was found to be unfair and the employee was awarded the maximum compensation of six months’ pay.

The Commission was highly critical of the lack of rigour in the internal investigation and that the Salvation Army had so readily accepted the customer’s claims ahead of the employee’s account.

What you should do

So what should you do if you need to undertake a workplace investigation?

First, call REEF. You can speak with one of our Workplace Relations Advisors, who can step you through the process.

Next, login to the REEF People Management System where you’ll and a workflow and checklist (including useful templates and guides) relating to ‘counselling for misconduct’. This will help you gather the evidence you need to assess any allegations of misconduct.

For more information, call REEF on 1300 616 170.

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About REEF

The Real Estate Employers' Federation is the real estate industry’s leading not-for-profit employer and workplace relations advisory association. It has more than 1600 members and subscribers across Australia.

Each year, REEF receives more than 20,000 calls from real estate employers needing help and guidance on matters affecting the employment relationship.

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