Workplace investigations: Know the facts

HR investigations are structured procedures to deal with allegations of different kinds in the workplace. The allegations will generally relate to conduct or performance. For the purposes of this post, we will focus on disciplinary investigations as many employers currently have concerns about staff compliance with new work protocols to deal with the risks of COVID-19.

The purpose of any investigation is to establish facts before deciding if a member of staff has a case to answer. Although this sounds straightforward, HR investigations tend to deal with sensitive issues and employees involved are likely to find the experience stressful.

This is why it’s best to adopt a structured approach to investigations to ensure you follow fair procedures at this early stage of a disciplinary process.

Where to start?

The first question to ask is “is an investigation necessary?” If you need to establish facts, then an investigation will be necessary. If there are no gaps in your understanding of what actually happened, an investigation won’t be needed.

Who investigates?

The investigating manager needs to be impartial and should be well removed from the allegations themselves. It’s also important that the investigation manager is competent to oversee the investigation. Smaller businesses may need to appoint an external investigator to ensure impartiality.

The structure of an investigation

It’s best to start by establishing clear terms of reference. Terms of reference might look at the following issues:

  • The allegation.
  • Is the investigation gathering information or establishing non-contestable facts?
  • Who will be needed to complete the investigation? Will it be necessary to appoint an external investigator? How will witnesses be handled?
  • Will employee representatives be involved?
  • What happens when draft and final investigation reports are prepared?

The purpose of the investigation

It’s crucial to establish the purpose of the investigation at the outset. The key question to ask is “will the investigation gather information or establish non-contestable facts?” An information-gathering exercise is not subject to the same principles of natural justice that would apply to an investigation that is being used to establish facts that the employee cannot contest.

Follow policies and procedures

Many employers will have employee handbooks that set out how they will deal with disciplinary issues. It may seem self-evident, but it’s important to comply with the terms of your own handbook.

Certain disciplinary issues will also fall under the guidance contained in codes of practice developed by the Workplace Relations Commission and Health and Safety Authority. There are codes of practice covering anti-bullying, discrimination/equality, disciplinary and grievance procedures. These should be borne in mind during any investigation process.

Concluding the investigation

The outcome of the investigation should be contained in a report prepared by the investigating manager. If there is a case to answer, the investigating manager will submit this report for use at a formal disciplinary hearing. At this stage of the process, the investigating manager has completed their work and should never be part of the decision-making panel or have any further involvement in the disciplinary process.

Need our help handling flexible work?

For advice on any HR issue, speak to an expert now on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

Book a call with a consultant

Complete the form below and a consultant will call you as soon as possible.

Book a call with a consultant

Complete the form below and a consultant will call you as soon as possible.

Latest Resources

Employer’s guide to lay-offs in Ireland

It’s common for businesses facing a downturn in trade to let employees go on a temporary basis. As an employer, you may also need to […]

Long-term sickness absence: When to conduct an informal welfare meeting

Everyone gets sick, so short-term sickness absence is something all employers will have to deal with from time to time and tends to cause minimal […]

Notice periods: an employer’s guide

Within a business, it’s constantly necessary to re-evaluate and adjust workforce planning. Whether this is due to employees looking for different career paths or the […]

Olga Shevchenko

Director/Advocate, Immigration Advice Bureau

Olga Shevchenko specialises in immigration advocacy and consultancy, in particular, employment permit, visas, family reunification, citizenship, etc, for those seeking to visit, reside or invest in Ireland.

Olga provides extensive information, knowledge, and support to her clients, enabling access to positive solutions for people struggling to handle the immigration law.

Minister Neale Richmond

Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment

Neale Richmond TD was appointed as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with special responsibility for Employment Affairs and Retail Business and the Department of Social Protection in January 2023.

Much of his work at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is with businesses, workers, their representative bodies and the State Agencies to ensure that the economic recovery and growth extends to all parts of the country. He works closely with the SME sector, including retail, on building resilience and on the transition to the green and digital economies.

Mark Carpenter

Director of Regulatory & Corporate Affairs, Sky

Mark Carpenter is Director of Regulatory & Corporate Affairs at Sky Ireland. In this role he has responsibility for External and Internal Communications, Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs and the company’s ‘Bigger Picture’ (CSR) programme. He also works closely with Sky Group teams on a variety of matters, in particular our partnerships with domestic broadcasters.

Prior to working at Sky, Mark worked as a Policy Officer in Houses of the Oireachtas and as a Management Consultant at Accenture. He has a BA in History from Oxford University and a PhD in Political Science from Trinity College Dublin.

Nora Cashe

Litigation and Compliance Manager, Peninsula

Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

Nora has extensive experience representing clients at Employment Tribunal hearings, Conciliation / Mediation meetings before both the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. 

Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

Deiric McCann

Managing Director, Genos International Europe

Deiric McCann leads Genos International Europe – The EU division of a world-leading provider of emotional intelligence solutions. 

With over two decades experience at the highest levels of management, Deiric supports clients to develop the resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety and engagements of their employees.

Rhiannon Coyne

Senior HR Consultant, Graphite HRM

Rhiannon Coyne is a Senior HR Consultant at Graphite HRM and will be providing an overview of best practice on how to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

With a number of recent updates to employment laws, Rhiannon will take a closer look at employment equality and how it is interlinked to Health & Safety and what employers can learn from recent case laws.

David Begg

Chairman, Workplace Relations Commission

David Begg was appointed Chairperson of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in January 2021.

David is also a professor at Maynooth University Institute of Social Sciences. Mr Begg’s extensive history in the trade union movement included leading the ESB Officers Association and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, stepping away from the latter in 2001 to chair international aid agency Concern.

David Begg was also previously a director of the Central Bank of Ireland between 1995 and 2010.