Several organisations are finding themselves embroiled in controversy because of complaints not being dealt with correctly.  Some of these are internal complaints from their own workforce.

Southern Medical Trust have recently been heavily criticised and sanctioned for a series of malpractice incidents. Irrespective of circumstances of the actual incident they were additionally criticised for not investigating these incidents correctly.  Some of this criticism was avoidable, the fact that they attracted significant reputational damage just because they failed to investigate properly would appear to be a serious own goal.

No organisation is immune to exposure of this kind of criticism.

The number of complaints recorded in Universities and High Education establishments, for instance, has grown significantly in recent years.  Complaints regarding the actions and conduct of both students and staff encompass a range of subjects: From cheating and plagiarism, allegations of inadequate teaching and support, as well as a range of serious criminal allegations.

Surrounding opinion of the younger generation and entitled millennia’s aside, it is clear that people are more ready to engage with litigation.  Coupled with this, they also have an improved awareness of the complaints process and improved support from trade organisations and representative bodies and a highly competitive legal system hungry for work.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has a statutory role to investigate a number of student complaints. Their 2015 report shows that the trend continues to rise (See Fig 1). An increasing number of which are seen as justified or partly justified (See Fig 2).

 

Figure 1
Figure 2

In the meantime, support and resources for senior managers tasked with investigating these complaints has failed to keep pace with the changes.

So, the question should be: Does my organisation know how to investigate? Have we got systems and policies in place? Do they have people within their organisation who can run or manage an investigation effectively?

Dependent on the organisation, the responsibility to carry out at least the initial investigation, lies with senior managers.  HR departments may take the legwork away from managers but ultimately the buck will stop with them.

Senior managers now find themselves increasingly burdened with this arduous responsibility, often without any formal training or guidance of the investigative processes.

Managers, or their nominees responsible for conducting an investigation, will benefit greatly from having some basic investigative training.  Now more than ever, there is increased scrutiny into the conduct of an enquiry/investigation. Adherence to the legislation, policies and procedure of your organisation is paramount in the process.

Developing knowledge and understanding of the investigation process enables the individual manager, as well as the organisation, to evidence their accountability, proportionality and reasonableness in their dealings with complainants irrespective of whether the initial complaint is upheld or not.

Demonstrating a thorough and ethical approach to your investigation may potentially help you avoid costly civil litigations and mitigate the risk of reputational harm.

Managers need to develop knowledge, understanding of the process of investigations and its key elements.  They also need a detailed understanding of the legislation, policies and procedures that governs an investigation and the significance and impact of non-compliance.

As a minimum, when an investigation is commenced the responsible manager will need to understand his or her role in the process along with all the ethics, principles, legislation, policies and procedures.

Investigators will need to develop the investigation strategy and demonstrate all decisions made as a result.

Anyone involved with the enquiry will need to understand the principles of

  • Securing and preserving evidence
  • Management of written material and associated evidence
  • Skills and techniques in investigative interviewing
  • Recording evidence in statement form
  • Case file preparation
  • Skills to present evidence in formal proceedings

Help is available. The legal experts will be able to supply you with hand books and text books which will tell you what you should and should not do, as well as the penalties for getting it wrong.

What the books will not tell you is how to do them, or not do them. The only people who can assist you in this regard are experienced investigators who have been through the fire of court and tribunal hearings, people who have had their every decision scrutinised and questioned in minute detail.

These people will be able to guide you through investigation strategies by helping organisations to put robust working practices and policies in place, which will protect the individuals and the organisation.  Systems, which can ensure the continuity of evidence so as to avoid the embarrassing questions in the middle of a hearing. Experts who can work with individuals who are managing investigations and give them skills to carry out robust, transparent, and impartial investigations which will stand up to the most rigorous scrutiny.  It’s not enough these days to be fair and impartial, it’s sometimes more important to be seen to be so.  You may inevitably need to prove and justify that you and your investigation have been thorough, impartial, fair, and professional, by producing incontestable facts or evidence to support decisions made and actions taken.  Ask yourself, can you manage an investigation correctly?

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