At the outset it is important that there is an up to date policy dealing with bullying at work as well as training provided for managers on how to manage potential bullying issues before they escalate.
Before reaching a point where a full scale bullying investigation is required, it may be possible to resolve the matter by alternative means. For example, depending on what the company’s own policies provide for and if the employees involved are agreeable, it may prove possible to deal with a bullying complaint to the satisfaction of all sides through informal discussions. Mediation can also be a very useful tool for resolving all kinds of workplace conflict including bullying allegations.
If the matter cannot be resolved by alternative means and a workplace investigation is required, the following steps represent a good general framework for bullying investigations. However, each investigation will involve its own distinct set of facts and each employer will need to take cognisance of their own bullying and harassment policy and ensure that any investigation complies with same.
1. Appoint an Investigator
The decision on who to appoint will very much depend on the facts. It may be appropriate to select some impartial manager within the company to investigate. Alternatively, it may be appropriate to appoint an external third party to investigate. Either way the investigator should be independent. He/she should not have had any involvement in the matters at issue and he/she should not have any vested interest in the outcome of the investigation.
2. Terms of reference
Prepare terms of reference setting out the purpose and scope of the investigation.
3. Give the employee a chance to fully respond to the allegations before any findings are made or disciplinary sanctions imposed
The respondent i.e. the employee about whom the bullying allegation has been made should be fully informed of the allegations against him/her and must be given a full opportunity to respond to them. Meaningful consideration should be given to his/her response before arriving at any findings on foot of the allegations.
4. Keep good notes and records
The investigator should ensure he/she keeps comprehensive intelligible notes of all meetings conducted throughout the investigation. The respondent employee should be given an opportunity to read and make suggested amendments to the notes of all meetings he/she attends and should also be given an opportunity to see and comment on what is recorded in the minutes of any meetings between the investigator and any other persons interviewed as part of the investigation. All of this should happen prior to the issue of any findings.
5. Issue the findings of the Investigation
Having concluded the investigation, the investigator should issue his/her findings.
6. Next Step
Having considered the findings made by the Investigator the Company can then decide whether to invoke the disciplinary procedure against the Respondent employee or whether any other action may be appropriate in the circumstances.