When should you appoint an external investigator?

Although most business owners try to achieve a workplace that inspires employee motivation, satisfaction and prosperity, they still, undoubtedly, have to deal with personnel issues – ranging from bullying to discrimination claims. In more serious cases, investigations can be necessary – and where the issue itself succeeds the knowledge and/or abilities of internal investigators, then the employer may be required to appoint an external investigator.

The media has recently highlighted an external investigation case, whereby the high-end fashion retailer, Ted Baker, saw its founder and chief executive resign from the business. Several allegations of misconduct were made against Mr Kelvin, which included ‘forced hugging’. In cases such as this, which includes claims of inappropriate physical contact, an external investigator is usually required – so, in response, Ted Baker appointed an external law firm.

It can often be difficult to know when is the right time to appoint an external investigator – and with regard to the reputation of the business, it’s not something that business owners usually want to resort to. However, in cases where internal investigators are out of their depth, it is always beneficial to hire an external firm. This could include sexual harassment claims against senior executives, where an external investigator can provide sufficient credibility to resolve the case. Alternatively, external support may be required in cases where members of contrasting cultures are involved, whereby internal investigators are not sufficiently experienced in this area.

Businesses may also find it necessary to hire an external investigator in instances where their reputation is vulnerable as a result of an ongoing case. Gaining support from external sources can help to protect a business from any media interest.

If you’re a business owner and have come to the conclusion that seeking an external investigator is the necessary response to a claim, then there are a few things that you should take into consideration. Firstly, you’ll need to decide who is best to take on this role – whether that’s a HR professional or lawyer. This will often become clearer when the purpose of the investigation is established. It’s also important to ensure that whilst the investigation is ongoing, you, as the employer, manage communication and confidentiality within the workplace. It’s also important to consider whether other employees would benefit from the persons involved in the investigation being temporarily suspended.

If you’re facing a difficult employee claim and are unsure of the appropriate actions to take, do get in touch with a member of our team, here.

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