The grievance process begins with first establishing if the grievance can be resolved informally. In many cases, line managers shy away from trying to resolve examples of reported poor staff behaviour at the time they are reported or in some instances witnessed by the line manager themselves.

The line manager sometimes takes the easier option of moving straight to advising the member of staff reporting the issue to submit a formal written grievance, therefore handing the responsibility of dealing with the issue to HR, who in turn then may have to seek out another manager to act as the investigator into the reported events.

When a member of staff makes a formal written complaint under the company’s discipline process, if the person reported is a senior member of staff or a member of staff who is received as difficult, this can cause the allocated investigator a great deal of anxiety.

Why is this?

When a written grievance of discipline complaint is submitted, a narrative is created, i.e. the persons making the complaint’s perception of events.

When a member of staff is allocated the role of investigator, they will need to conduct investigation meetings with the relevant parties, to seek evidence to support or contradict the narrative. It is the role of the investigator to establish if there is a case to answer or not based on the evidence gathered during the investigation.

It is NOT to blindly follow the narrative and seek to support it, a thing we call narrative bias

It is NOT the investigator’s role to find guilt or innocence, that is the role of the decision-makers.

During investigation meetings investigators need to ask the right questions, at the right time, in the right way, to gain the best evidence to support the decision-makers, in making their informed decisions.

Easy right?

In practice, it is not so easy unless the investigator has been properly trained in conducting investigation meetings and questioning techniques, a thing we call investigative interviewing.

The higher the stakes of the investigation the more the requirement for properly trained investigators.

By the right questions, we don’t mean questions that were written down before the meeting – Lists of questions are not the same thing as an interview plan. We have all seen lots of websites stating “the top ten questions to ask during an investigation meeting” and the like. Empirical research, however, shows that preparing and following a list of questions leads the investigator to seek to confirm what they had already thought may have happened before going into the meeting, a thing we call confirmation bias

By the right time, we don’t mean fitting into a rigid model – rigid models do not work in an environment requiring flexibility. There are a lot of models that were created for the criminal justice world that should not be rigidly followed in the civil justice sector. To do so would be in effect sliding a round peg into a square hole, it looks like it fits but it doesn’t properly fit, and the gaps are quickly exposed.

By the right way, I don’t mean blindly following the well-publicised open to closed questioning route – the investigator must listen carefully to what is being said and react with meaningful correctly worded questions, from their toolbelt of question types.

The person the investigator is meeting with needs to fully understand their options, feel valued, and be allowed to give their information freely- not bombarded by questions and leave the meeting thinking what was the point!

The quality and reliability of the evidence the investigator gathers and reports on will have a direct impact on the decision maker’s ability to make their informed decisions. There are too many examples of issues having to be reinvestigated at the discipline panel stage because they were not properly investigated during the investigation stage.

Always remember that the ultimate decision-maker in employment issues could be the employment tribunal.

Intersol Global is a group of specialists in investigation and investigative interviewing. If you would like to enquire about our services, please contact or call us on 01925 982680.