MiP MiP

The union for health and care managers

Home  >  News & Campaigns  >  Features  >  Tipster: How to run a proper investigation
Thursday 08 December 2016

How to run a proper investigation

By Andy Hardy

Have you been asked to investigate a colleague’s conduct or performance? Here are ten tips for avoiding costly and career-damaging pitfalls.

1. Why me?

Many people don’t realise how pressurised, difficult and time consuming investigations can be. Consider carefully whether you’re right for the job. Are you impartial? Do you have any prior involvement? Do you have the experience? Are you senior enough? What support will you get from HR? Consider the impact on your day job – investigations can drag on for months or even years, especially if you end up in front of an Employment Tribunal or the GMC. Are you prepared for that?

Cartoon

2. Terms of reference

Make sure you get rock solid terms of reference. It needs to be crystal clear what’s being investigated, who’s involved and how the investigation will be conducted. If the terms of reference are vague or inaccurate, insist on rewriting them yourself or seek advice on doing so. It’s better to walk away than risk your professional reputation running what will inevitably be a sub-standard investigation.

3. Be neutral and impartial

Don’t confuse your role with that of the disciplining officer. You’re not there to prove the employer’s case, but to make a neutral and impartial assessment of the facts. Remember, the accused person’s union reps and/or lawyers will try to undermine your credibility as an investigator, so don’t make it easy for them!

4. Check the basics

Verify all the basic facts about the case. For example, if someone is accused of not doing part of their job, check their job description to see if they’re really responsible for doing it. Make sure you have accurate contact details for everyone involved. I’ve seen a number of investigations and investigators derailed because confidential details were sent to the wrong person.

5. Don’t take things at face value

Is the evidence credible? Is there any substance to the allegations? Check the records – is there evidence of a pattern of behaviour? And don’t ask leading questions. I once defended a member falsely accused of sleeping on shift. Instead of asking if anyone had actually seen the member sleeping, the investigator asked witnesses if they were aware he was sleeping. That will get you a hammering from any trade union official or barrister worth their salt.

6. Don’t go fishing

Your job is not to dig up dirt, or show that the person under investigation is a bad employee. Stick to the specific allegations in your terms of reference; you have to show evidence of solid reasons for any deviation from them. Remember, you cannot make a smoking gun – if the evidence isn’t there, there’s no case to answer.

7. Consider alternatives to suspension

Employers often suspend senior managers as a panic response to any accusations. Although it’s supposed to be neutral, suspension invariably feels punitive to the person suspended, and makes it almost impossible for a senior manager to return to work even if they are subsequently exonerated. So it’s in both their and the organisation’s interests to use it only as a last resort. Think about redeployment to another post or site instead.

8. Prepare for a grilling 

The employee’s trade union rep will press you hard on both the evidence and the way you conduct your investigation. Remember, this is never personal – they would do the same on your behalf if the boot was on the other foot. Prepare to be grilled very hard by a barrister if you go before a tribunal or the GMC. And if you’re criticised in the ruling, it could be on the web for ever and a day.

9. Keep in touch

Employers have a duty of care towards people being investigated. There’s nothing worse than sitting at home for months on end, not knowing what’s going on. Make sure someone from management is contacting them at least once every two weeks, keep everyone informed on progress and stay in regular touch with the union rep dealing with the case – they want a fair investigation too!

10. Think about the end from the start
However straightforward the case seems, you could still end up before a tribunal. So, keep asking yourself, “could I justify this to a tribunal judge?” A badly handled investigation could seriously damage the organisation – and your career too. 

Andy Hardy is MiP national officer for Wales and the South West.

If you enjoyed this article, please sign up to receive our free monthly emails - and we’ll keep you up to date on news and events in health and care management

Appraisals cartoon

Everyone hates appraisals, right? Keep it simple and focus on having an honest dialogue and you can banish cynicism and make appraisals something to look forward to.

02 November 2019 | By Ian Reid
Tipster
Tipster cartoon - NHS boardroom: You don't have to be male here but it helps

Here’s our tips on how men can play a big part in supporting women leaders and the push for a more gender-balanced NHS.

26 July 2019 | By Samantha Allen
Tipster

MiP’s caseload suggests ‘gaslighting’ is on the increase in the NHS. Here’s some tips for recognising this pernicious form of bullying and taking steps to protect yourself.

19 June 2019 | By Claire Pullar
Tipster
Tipster cartoon - "Your suspension is a 'neutral act' - no one is judging you Ann..."

Suspension can damage your career but doesn’t have to be a disaster. We explain how to limit the damage and improve your chances of a successful return to work.

04 March 2019 | By Ruth Smith
Tipster

With the need to create a more inclusive culture high on the NHS agenda, here’s ten tips on how to champion diversity in the workplace.

27 April 2018 | By Jane Farrell
Tipster
Tipster - How to talk to MPs about your work

Following MiP's successful parliamentary reception in October, James Noble offers ten tips to help you get your story and MiP's message across to your MP.

15 December 2017 | By James Noble
Tipster
Tipster_2017-09-15_Working with Doctors_Cartoon

With NHS services under extreme pressure, managers and doctors need great working relationships. Umesh Prabhu shares his tips for working more effectively with your medical colleagues.

15 September 2017 | By MiP
Tipster
Tipster_2017-05-26_AFC_Cartoon

UNISON’s head of health gives her top tips for using the Agenda for Change agreement to to recruit, retain and motivate your staff.

26 May 2017 | By Sara Gorton
Tipster
Tipster_2017-03-15_Unions partnership_Cartoon

In today’s NHS, managers need to work in partnership with unions to keep staff happy and fully engaged. Here’s a few basic principles worth remembering.

15 March 2017 | By Craig Ryan
Tipster
Tipster_2016-12-08_Investigations_Cartoon

Have you been asked to investigate a colleague’s conduct or performance? Here are ten tips for avoiding costly and career-damaging pitfalls.

08 December 2016 | By Andy Hardy
Tipster
12
Find us

Ebbark House, 93-95 Borough High Street, London SE1 1NL

Copyright © 2018 MiP