Managing emotion and culture during an investigation

Wednesday February 28, 2024

At the moment a serious workplace grievance is raised, you are almost certain to have an emotional response initially; especially if it is someone senior, or you yourself have been accused of something like bullying or sexual harassment.

In life we are often encouraged not to bottle things up, but in this first moment ignore that advice! Don’t hit send on an angry response if you got a complaint by email. Don’t engage in conversation with connected parties in the first instance. Go for a walk, shut yourself in a private room, take some deep breaths.

In fact, the first person you should talk to is your HR professional; whether that is an outsourced service like ours, or someone in-house. Have us on speed dial!

This will prevent you inflaming the situation unwisely, and also give a chance for process to take over. The Acas code of practice must be followed together with your own grievance policy to ensure the best outcome and avoid legal risk.

This will help you act fairly, thoroughly and in a timely fashion. The Acas code of practice gives you room to handle a matter informally. Meeting the individual and understanding the nature of their complaint may be all that is needed to resolve the issue.


Where there is an investigation

Should the informal approach fail you need to protect the complainant, potential witnesses and the accused, and you can do this by staying as neutral as possible. Show that you are being fair and objective to everyone.

Bringing in a third party to manage the investigation can help here. It will take a budget of course, but unfortunately by this stage you will incur company cost – even if it is just through your own time being taken up.

If you offer an Employee Assistance Programme as part of your benefits package, this may have a component that can help affected staff with professional support. Ask us about these if they are of interest.

Remember to keep everyone concerned informed during the process whilst managing the confidentiality aspects.


Changes to the Equality Act 2010

From October 2024 there will be an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 which will introduce a new proactive duty for employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment during the course of their employment.

You will need to reflect on what caused the problem in the first place. There may be a need for a disciplinary hearing or there may be no case to answer. Often, though, you may uncover some training which needs to be delivered to everyone to avoid a repeat incident in the future, or a change to your policies and procedures.


Further help

If an investigation or other issue triggers cultural challenges or training needs within your business, we can help. Our experienced HR professionals can advise on your best way forward to get everyone focused and working productively for you. Just ask us if you have a need.

We have recently launched a podcast, Preventing People Problems by The HR Dept. In the first episode, we discuss investigations in the workplace: the process, the emotions and the aftermath. View our podcast page here.

Preventing People Problems

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter

Office Address: Pure Offices Warwick, Wilton Drive, Tournament Fields, Warwick, CV34 6RG | VAT Number: 871350432 | Registration Number: 5563896

Copyright © 2007 - 2019 The HR Dept Ltd. HR DEPT is a registered trademark belonging to The HR Dept Limited.