6 Common mistakes by investigating managers

Workplace investigations are in the news. Not in general, just one specific investigation which has attracted a lot of attention.

Hopefully, any investigations you have to conduct won’t be on the scale of the Sue Gray report, nor will you have to investigate in parallel with the Met Police. And you’re unlikely to receive the same level of public scrutiny. But… it’s entirely likely that your investigation will be scrutinised, if the case goes to an employment tribunal, for example. And that scrutiny would include the process you use and how it was carried out.

With that in mind, here are six mistakes to avoid.

#1. Failure to investigate

This is an obvious one, perhaps. But as first hurdles go, it’s surprising how often the organisational mood is one of ‘brush it under the carpet and hope it goes away’. Any decision not to investigate a complaint or situation should be based on the facts, the seriousness of any allegations, and be soundly justifiable.

(Clue: It will only stir up trouble is not a justification).

#2. Slow to act

Don’t delay. The amount and accuracy of information and evidence deteriorates over time. Consider that in many workplace complaints or conflicts, witness testimony is a valuable (or even only) source of evidence – people’s memories fade.

The aim is to complete the process as quickly as possible without sacrificing rigour. Any unavoidable delays should be described in the written record of the investigation.

#3. Inconsistency

Any and all employees you involve in the investigation should be treated fairly and consistently. Inconsistencies are potential grounds for disputing your conclusions. The best way to ensure consistency is to follow your organisation’s policies and procedures for investigations (which hopefully are in line with Acas best practice!)

#4. Subjectivity

You’re human. As such, you have your own bias and prejudices, your own assumptions waiting to be made. What’s more, you may have your own personal (emotional) reactions to the evidence and testimony you find. As an investigating manager, your role depends on neutrality – managing any emotional reactions, and guarding against any failure of objectivity.

#5. Asking the wrong questions

Your role is to find out information, probe and follow up, and challenge any inconsistencies. To achieve this, you need to carefully (and consciously) choose your questions.


  • Leading questions that indicate the answer you’re expecting (either through wording or tone).
  • Loaded questions that show your own bias, expectations or assumptions .
  • Multiple questions that may confuse the interviewee (and often lead to partial or cherry-picked answers).

#6. Failure to document

Your record of the process and your findings is the key output from the investigation. Decisions (potentially including dismissal) will be based on your written record and conclusions. And should things go to a tribunal, your documentation will be critical evidence.

Document each stage of the process. Take accurate notes. Wherever you can, get agreement from interviewees that your notes are an accurate representation of what has been said.

Workplaces investigations are a significant responsibility, and it’s all too easy for a manager balancing extra investigative duties with their ‘day job’ to succumb to one or more of the pitfalls above. Which, however understandable, is not fair to anyone involved given the seriousness of the situation. This is why Maximum HR offer ‘Workplace Investigations’ training to support managers taking on this responsibility and to ensure that the process is fair and will withstand scrutiny.


If you’re looking to support your investigating managers, our flexible workshop is highly practical, includes case studies and role play (including actors to play the roles of interviewees if you prefer) and can be delivered face to face or virtually. Give us a call on 01582 463462. We’re here to help.

Categories: HR

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