Home - Use these examples to get workplace investigations right

UpdatesApr 23, 2018

Use these examples to get workplace investigations right

Most employers know that workplace investigations can be tricky. They can be performed internally by your staff or externally by an independent investigator.

By Kelly Godfrey

Most employers know that workplace investigations can be tricky. They can be performed internally by your staff or externally by an independent investigator. Irrespective of who conducts it, there can be issues with the quality of an investigation.

Before relying on the findings of an investigation, you must consider whether the findings can be supported by the evidence.

Internal investigations: Don’t do this

Jennifer Walker v Salvation Army (NSW) (2017) is an example of an internal investigation that got it wrong.

Ms Walker managed the Salvation Army’s Lidcombe store. She had been employed by the Salvation Army for 11 years and had an unblemished employee record. The Salvation Army summarily dismissed Ms Walker claiming she had stolen $200. Ms Walker commenced unfair dismissal proceedings against the Salvation Army.

On 23 July 2016, Ms Walker served a customer who wanted to purchase furniture. She provided the customer with a handwritten document indicating the items of furniture that would be set aside. The customer arrived later in the week to collect the furniture, claiming he had paid $200 in full to Ms Walker. However, there was no record of sale.

The Salvation Army undertook an internal investigation, reviewed the CCTV footage, and interviewed Ms Walker and the customer. At the conclusion of the investigation, the Salvation Army believed the customer’s account and the CCTV showed Ms Walker had at least $50 in her hand.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) indicated that the more serious the alleged conduct, the higher the standard of reasonable satisfaction required in determining whether the conduct occurred. The FWC found that the CCTV footage showed Ms Walker holding a $50 note in her hand, but it did not show that she had received that money from the furniture customer and therefore it could have been from another customer.

The FWC held:

External investigations: Don’t do this either

Hedges v Wakefield Regional Council (2016) is an example of an external investigation that got it wrong.

Mr Kieran Hedges, an employee of Wakefield City Council, was summarily dismissed when an external investigator made findings that Mr Hedges had spat at a work colleague, Mr Allan, and that this constituted serious misconduct warranting dismissal. Mr Hedges commenced unfair dismissal proceedings under the South Australian Fair Work Act 1994.

The Commissioner hearing the case was critical of the investigation because:

Commissioner McMahon found the dismissal was unfair and ordered Mr Hedges be reinstated with back pay.

What should you do?

Employers should:

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