A recent case shows why it is incredibly important that all disciplinary investigations start from the perspective of an open mind. The particular case concerned an IT Manager dismissed by an NHS Trust, who was accused of assault following a dispute with a contractor in the hospital car park. The employee concerned was of African/Caribbean origin and was abused and treated aggressively by some visitors. It seemed that the visitors behaved even more inappropriately then they already were when the employee tried to intervene: he received racial abuse. When the employee tried to extricate himself from the situation, he called security, the security staff wrongfully assumed he was the guilty party. Following an investigation into the whole scenario, (the Employment Tribunal thought it was a fundamentally flawed investigation) they interrogated the employee and questioned the veracity of his evidence and in doing so treated him less favourably because of his race, assuming him to be the aggressor and that the white witnesses were the victims. Not only has the Trust had to apologise profusely but it has also cost them a £1,000,000.
This illustrates perfectly how in any scenario you should not assume anything in your investigation. For example, if a female employee complains of harassment by a male employee you should not jump to any conclusions but should examine what evidence there is in relation to the things that she is saying, just as much as where we have a male employee complaining of sexual harassment by female staff, then we would need to focus on what evidence there is. In a case where there is a conflict in the evidence i.e. one person’s word against the other, we then need to look at what other evidence might be bought forward, which makes one person’s side of the story more believable than the other. For example, a third witness may have observed somebody being visibly upset and shaken by something. Ignoring this basic principle means an investigation can get off on the wrong footing entirely.