Four Steps to a Great Investigation Report

Bringing evidence together into a great report can be challenging

Posted by Harriet Stacey in on January 5th, 2016

By the time a workplace investigator has reached the stage of compiling the investigation report, many hours, documents and interview outcomes have no doubt accumulated. How to bring all of this together effectively into a quality report might seem quite challenging. Yet, by dividing the task of reporting into a step-by-step plan, the complex assortment of materials gleaned from your workplace investigation can be streamlined into a useful and professional report. 

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REVISE THE BRIEF

The first thing to consider before you begin compiling the report is whether or not the Terms of Reference (TOR) have been met. These were established at the beginning of the investigation between yourself and the employer, setting out the key people, queries and facts relevant to the task. With the TOR in mind, ask yourself if you have achieved all necessary aspects of the investigation.

PREPARE YOUR DRAFT

The best investigation reports are well planned and logically organised. With the Terms of Reference and your evidence on hand, you can begin to sketch out and double-check your preliminary findings. Let us say that you feel confident that an allegation of misconduct has proven true as a result of your investigation. You would double-check and note all evidence relevant to this particular incident, to ensure that available material does in fact support your finding. Issues of procedural fairness, such as the inclusion of all relevant witnesses, should be kept in mind.

WRITE WITH FUTURE READERS IN MIND

A well-structured workplace investigation report will have one or two key features. First, the format will be clear and sequential, with an easy-to-follow index of both the report body and appendices. Secondly, the language of the report should be as clear and non-technical as possible. Don’t forget that the employer wants a very clear idea of what happened and what you have found – not a file full of big words! Plain language ensures that your objectivity is on show. Also, make the report itself relatively brief. The heart of the report document itself should simply cover the following four core components, with appendices attached. Objective and neutral language is essential, in order to clearly demonstrate that procedural fairness has remained front-and-centre during the task.

A LOGICAL SEQUENCE

Our four-part plan can help you set our your investigation report logically, ensuring the report is complete and easy to understand.

PART 1 – OVERVIEW

The first part of the report, the introduction, will give a broad-brush overview of both the critical events and the process of the workplace investigation itself. A summary of the TOR, including all allegations and relevant parties, will be included. Following this, an accurate timeline of investigative activities is set out so that readers get a feel for how and when each allegation arose and was dealt with. In general, you are providing a birds-eye view of events preceding the report.

PART 2 – FINDINGS

These are your findings relevant to the allegations. This might seem premature, as you are yet to introduce the evidence. Yet, if we consider future readers of the document – employer, possible lawyers and/ or courts and tribunals – placement of the findings near the start of the report creates a user-friendly format. Set out each allegation, plus a short statement as to whether or not you are satisfied on the basis of the evidence that it is founded in fact.

PART 3 – EVIDENCE

In the third section of the investigation report, describe available evidence as it relates to the allegations in question. Clearly refer readers to the numbered appendices at the back of your report, so that statements can be crosschecked with particular evidence. For example, you might refer to sections from two transcripts which corroborate allegations of a third party’s behaviour. Ensure that the relevant sections are appended, and avoid emotive language (descriptions such “damning document” for example) to ensure that your compliance with procedural fairness is apparent to all.

PART 4 – SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Finally, part 4 will summarise your workplace investigation and the outcomes achieved. In particular, you will include any recommendations if requested in the TOR’s. These should be numbered and refer back to the findings. As an example, you might structure a recommendation as follows: “Due to allegation B having been made out against Mr TL (refer page 1 of Findings), disciplinary action of X is recommended.”

STRIVE TO BE THOROUGH AND CLEAR

By checking for completeness, drafting well and utilising our four-part report outline, you can ensure that all of your hard investigative work pays off. Write plainly and set your work out logically. With a clear and objective approach, you can generate a workplace investigation report that will pass muster as being fair, useful and professional.

Harriet Stacey
Harriet Stacey

Owner, WISE Workplace

Harriet Stacey is a founding member and Chief Executive Officer of WISE Workplace, a national Australian firm providing investigative services in relation to workplace misconduct since 2002. She has designed, implemented and managed the workplace investigations processes for leading government agencies, corporations and the not for profit sector, trained thousands of HR and compliance professionals to conduct investigations and has conducted and overseen over a 1000 investigations of fraud, discrimination, bullying and harassment, sexual harassment, child protection and inappropriate use of ICT resources.

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