Why an external investigator?
Dispassionate objectivity is itself a passion, for the real and for the truth.
- Abraham Maslow
Many organisations, when faced with a complaint of bullying or sexual harassment, or other misconduct, elect to conduct the investigation ‘in-house’. The ‘easy’ path is not necessarily the best one. There are numerous examples of flawed or incomplete internal investigations resulting in criticisms from the Fair Work Commission and in some cases reinstatement following termination. This, to be honest, is just awkward.
There are many advantages in engaging one:
- Your internal resources may be stretched. Investigations can be very time consuming and an external investigator can dedicate the necessary time and resources to get it completed in a timely way.
- It is a stressful process for all involved — complainant, respondent and the witnesses, as well as other senior staff. An external investigator can complete the investigation in a way that reduces the stress for the parties, and your internal HR team.
- Investigations can have an enormous emotional impact on staff when they are conducted internally, when they know the people involved, as well as a strain on them intellectually, if they are not familiar with process and procedure. External investigators are not emotionally invested in the outcome of the investigation, being engaged to investigate and report on the facts.
- An external investigator is completely impartial. Without knowing the personalities of the people involved an external investigator brings no pre-conceived ideas or biases to the investigation. This means it is likely to be perceived as a 'fairer' process.
- Having an external investigator means that your HR Manager, or other senior staff member who would ordinarily conduct the investigation, is able to provide 'emotional scaffolding', if needed, to the staff involved.
- The seniority of the people involved may require an external investigator. If, for example, the complaint involves someone to whom your HR Manager reports, it is not appropriate for that person to conduct the investigation.
- Perceptions of other staff can be more easily managed — internal investigations might be perceived as a ‘white wash’ or a ‘ticking boxes’ exercise, and looked upon with cynicism. Bringing in an external investigator shows staff that management takes the issue seriously.
- An external investigator is more experienced in conducting investigations and able to extract information others may not be able to. Professional investigators are very used to the charmers, the silent aggressors, the blamers, the people who don’t want to be involved and the underminers, and know how to deal with them.
- When an external investigator is engaged, it is unlikely to result in allegations of a lack of natural justice.
- Where recommendations are called for, management can act on them, as advice from the Investigator. This takes some pressure off management in terms of perceptions of staff in how the matter has been handled.
There is always a place for investigations to be conducted internally, but don’t under-estimate the value in having an external investigator deal with a difficult issue for you.