All employers should be committed to the documentation of any and all workplace investigations that occur within the workplace. How else can decisions regarding any potential action be made if the details of the preceding events are not noted in a credible format? Due to their typically verbal nature, interviews in particular need to have records that represent the conversation accurately and to the level of detail in which they occurred.
Why is it important to document a workplace investigation interview?
Adequate record keeping of workplace incidents and any workplace investigation interviews undertaken serves as an investment for the company. It provides a documented record of the occurrence that can be examined and referred to as many times over whilst maintaining credibility. In the case of any legal proceedings or claims, this allows far greater ability for defence especially in comparison to verbal statements provided long after the situation occurred. This way, any conflictual information that arises, details that are forgotten or statement of events can be cross checked with the interview records at later points in the investigation, minimising any confusion or attempts to mislead.
Thorough documentation also bolsters employee confidence by promoting a culture of policy adherence within the company, one that provides a sense of security in the scenario they’re asked or want to participate in an interview themselves. In such situations, documentation is also a much more comfortable route for employees to take, as opposed to video or audio recording devices, and allows them to feel more at ease and discuss the circumstances more comprehensively.
What ways can a workplace investigation interview be documented?
There are a number of methods through which a workplace investigation interview can be documented. It is not always necessary to employ all possible means at every occurrence that requires a workplace investigation interview. As an employer, what you choose to document as well as the extent of detail you employ, will depend on the nature of the event and the risk it poses to the company.
The higher you perceive the risk to be, the more important it becomes to have the workplace investigation interview documented in a manner that represents the interview as accurately as possible. You can do this by following the below steps:
1. Interview Notes
The interview notes can be made by either the interviewer themselves or by an additional note taker that is present in the room. The latter is more preferable as it allows the conversation between the parties to flow better and occur without the interruption of jotting notes down which can also make the other individual nervous and their answers consequently less thorough.
These notes are generally only for the person taking them and should not be referred to after they have been used to produce the interview memorandum. This is largely because the notes taken in real time are very subjective and often abbreviated for time purposes and as a result, only truly comprehensible by the person who wrote them.
2. Witness Interview Memorandum
The witness interview memorandum is one of the most important pieces of documentation in the entire workplace investigation process. It is a written record of the interview that depicts the spoken conversation, not necessarily as a completely verbatim account but in a cohesive and logical manner. It should include a brief background of the interviewee including their position, their work history and relationship with any relevant employees.
Following this should be a chronological account of the questions and answers as near to their original speech. Any edits to the account should only be permissible to those that were present at the interview and have the relevant authority to do so.
Having these memorandums on hand for each witness that is relevant to a workplace incident allows the authorised counsel to put together the different perspectives of the incident until there is a consolidated understanding of the event that matches the statements of the witnesses and allows for any inconsistencies to be identified and addressed. The memorandum should also be signed by the witness to certify their acknowledgment of the facts of the interview and to ensure that there are no discrepancies in what was spoken versus what was written.
The interview memorandum can also contain the counsel’s opinions about the interviewee’s responses in accordance with their perception of:
- the individual’s body language
- the tonal quality of their responses
- the manner in which they responded
- the consistency of their responses
This can be used to offer additional insight into the interview but can also be excluded if there is an expectation that the memorandum will be provided to external authorities such as the Fair Work Ombudsman.
3. Workplace Investigation Report
A summary of all the workplace investigation interviews that occurred during the investigative proceedings of an incident is also included in the final report. References to the interviews can be made to support the conclusions that are reached by the report but typically the interview summaries are concise and limited to the most important revelations. This is because the investigation report is a document that combines the findings of all the other documentation and procedures that occurred to reach a recommendation of possible action or inaction. The workplace investigation interviews themselves are important but not the only piece of the puzzle required to conclude an investigation.
What else is important about conducting workplace investigation interviews?
Besides the documentation of a workplace investigation interview, there are a number of other considerations that an employer should take into account to ensure that an interview is as conducive to the investigation as possible.
The interview location is an important decision that can play a part in how effective the session with the witness is. The right interview setting should be in a private space; a public place can cause unnecessary distractions and pose risks to the confidentiality of the interview itself. It should also be a comfortable setting, whilst maintaining a necessary degree of formality, to allow the witness to feel at ease and share their experiences freely and openly.
The witness should be made aware of their rights in undertaking the interview as well during and after the session itself. They should feel free to pause or end the interview at any point if they no longer feel comfortable, be welcomed to take their time in responding and be provided an explanation as to why the interview is taking place. Similarly, they should also be informed of their responsibility to share the truth as they see it and refrain from misleading answers.
Another consideration is the approach to the interview itself. It’s advisable to avoid being confrontational and to ask questions that focus on fact gathering, the witness and their experiences regarding the incident. Taking on a confrontational tone or asking questions in a manner that insinuates blame can seem threatening to the witness and prevent them from being as open as they could be otherwise.
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Workplace investigation interviews are an important part of the entire investigative process and the manner in which they are conducted and documented should be an important consideration for employers. Adequate documentation can mean all the difference when it comes to ensuring the best possible outcome for the company at the conclusion of an investigation.