A few months ago I gave some free advice to a friend’s husband who was facing a disciplinary investigation. Yesterday I got a message of thanks to say that he had been completely vindicated and that all disciplinary charges were going to be dropped. I was shocked at how long it had taken to reach this stage and that he had been kept in limbo for that long. Indeed, it seems that whilst the employer may have come to the ‘right outcome’, the delays in dealing with this will have only damaged the employment relationship: I’ve seen too often the employee who feels that even accusing them of some wrongdoing breaks trust and confidence even when they are later acquitted. I won’t be surprised if I hear this person has gone off and found a job elsewhere, costing the employer all the investment they have made in recruiting and training them.
When it comes to both grievance and disciplinary investigations there are legal reasons why the situation needs to be dealt with promptly: there is an implied term in the contract of employment that the grievance will be dealt with promptly. I am horrified to learn this week of a situation where months after a grievance was raised, an investigator has yet to be appointed. The employee would be within their rights to resign and claim constructive dismissal. In unfair dismissal terms, dealing with an investigation promptly and thoroughly will form part of following a fair procedure, a key hurdle the employer has to overcome.
So HR and managers, put yourself in the employee’s shoes, how would you feel if you were them? By having this in the forefront of your mind you are likely to act more quickly and do a better job, as well as acting within the law, potentially saving your organisation the cost of disputes. Perhaps even do some initial investigation before you suspend someone and formally launch headlong into the disciplinary process: by doing that you might discover that the situation is not how it looks, saving the damage you might otherwise do to the employment relationship.