To audio record ... or not to audio record?

Jill McMahon - Tuesday, March 12, 2013

HARRIET STACEY on an age-old dilemma for investigators - even as technology makes it all so much easier.

Regardless of recent technological developments that enable reliable digital audio recording without great expense - and mass access to MP3 and MP4 files and transcription programs – workplace investigators still dwell on this question: to audio record or not.

Anyone who has an iPhone and music software on their computer can easily audio record an interview on their phone, upload it to their music player and be confident that the recording is accurate and audible.  

I’ve been playing recently with smartpen technology that allows you to record the audio on an unobtrusive pen whilst taking notes. The recording device can then play back the audio by simply touching the pen on the notes from that section of the interview.  

Testing competency
This approach is potentially invaluable when testing competency and concepts with children and vulnerable witnesses, enabling them to draw their understanding of ‘under’, ‘over’, ‘in’ and ‘out’ etc.

Whilst interviewers are still obliged to gain permission to record the interview and announce the parties present and the time and date of the recording at the start of each interview, the absence of the triple-deck tape machine goes a long way to reducing the anxiety that recording devices used to generate.  

In fact, our whole attitude towards recording life in general has become more relaxed with the mass adoption of video phones, social media and YouTube. Now, it seems almost any moment from your social life could end up online!

I’m not suggesting for a second that investigators even consider posting their interviews on social media, but the point is society as a whole is more accepting of all of our lives being that much more public than they used to be. And that means a lot more interviewees are probably more relaxed about the presence of recording devices.

Barriers Remain
Recording interviews with people accused of workplace misconduct – or respondents - is now generally accepted. But some organisations still resist this when it comes to interviews with witnesses or complainants.

Managers and their advisers become anxious about privacy laws, confidentiality and potential liability, all of which results in policy inertia about accepting new technologies and embracing best practice.

There is a mass of research on the unreliability of witness evidence in the criminal arena. Just as early research into police interviewing conducted by J. Baldwin in the 1990s showed big skills gaps, recent research into the accuracy of witness statements is likely to cause ripples throughout the world’s justice systems by illustrating the inaccuracies in witness statements when compared against transcripts.

Assess Reliability
Whilst some decision-makers harbour misconceptions that taking witness statements is quicker (and therefore less costly) than audio recording -- it certainly produces shorter paper documents -- the main reason for recording witness accounts in workplace complaints is to enable investigators and decision-makers to assess the reliability of the witness account, and identify issues that are lost or hidden in a polished witness statement.

In administrative decisions, viewing the transcript of an interview provides valuable information to decision-makers about the likely reliability of the evidence. Unlike criminal proceedings, administrative decision-makers are rarely able to cross-examine and question witnesses, so they have to base decisions on the evidence in front of them. That makes the transcript of interviews so much more valuable.

What do you think?

NOTE: In May Professor Ray Bull, a UK-based psychologist, will be conducting a number of Master Classes in Investigative Interviewing in Australia. Ray has been intimately involved in the development of Investigative Interviewing in the UK and in law enforcement organisation around the world. The British Government commissioned him to draft the first guidelines on interviewing children in the 1990s. Ray has since gone on to build a lifetime of research and practice on police interviewing and more latterly the application of interviewing in the administrative law field. His visit to Australia in April and May is being hosted by WISE Workplace.

Congratulations to our students

Jill McMahon - Thursday, December 27, 2012


Well done to the staff from Uniting Care Children, Young People and Families (UCCYPF) who did their assessments for the Certificate IV in Government Investigations just before Christmas.

These staff are the first cohort from UCCYPF who will be trained by WISE to conduct workplace investigations and build the organisations capacity to respond to complaints of misconduct and allegations of 'reportable conduct'.

UCCYPF staff attended training in April 2012. The program was specifically designed to meet the needs of the organisation and advance the skills of staff in conducting workplace investigations.  UCCYPF have more training planned for next year.

Based on the success of this program WISE will be offering two public courses during 2013 for people who investigate 'Reportable Conduct'.

AHRC survey finds sexual harassment a common workplace problem

Jill McMahon - Thursday, November 15, 2012


Even though the Sex Discrimination Act was introduced in 1984, AHRC's recent report on its survey on the prevalence of  sexual harassment in the workplace, shows that sexual harassment remains widespread and efforts to curb this behaviour have stalled.

AHRC's report Working without fear: Results of the sexual harassment national telephone survey 2012 shows that in the past five years:

  •     approximately 1 in 5 people 15 years and older were sexually harassed in the workplace;
  •     1 in 4 women (25%) have been sexually harassed in the workplace;
  •     1 in 6 men (16%) have been sexually harassed in the workplace;
  •     the most common targets are most likely to be women under 40;
  •     harassers are most likely to be co-workers;
  •     women are at least 5 times more likely than men to have been harassed by a boss or employer;
  •     more than half of all sexual harassment involved men harassing women;
  •     nearly a quarter of all harassment involved male harassment of men;

Encouragingly, 51 % of bystanders took some steps to prevent or reduce the harm of the sexual harassment they were aware of.

The full report can be read here

Wise Workplace has had a lot to say about sexual harassment in the past given that this behaviour is sadly a common feature in its investigations. As AHRC's report paints a disturbing picture of a continuing and endemic workplace problem, Wise Workplace will have more to say in the future.


Jo Kamira in The Canberra Times

Jill McMahon - Sunday, December 04, 2011


WISE's Jo Kamira features in not one but two recent articles in The Canberra Times.

In these articles Jo talks about her experience in investigations and upward bullying.

Please click on links below to read the full articles.

Probing misdeeds in the workplace - Opinion - Editorial - General - The Canberra Times

Rogue workers 'terrorising' employers - Local News - News - General - The Canberra Times

31 Days 31 Tips - Complete List

Harriet Stacey - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

During August we posted daily tips on investigations on our website, facebook and twitter. Here is the complete list of those tips.

31 Days 31 Tips

 Tip 1 – Silence is an interviewer’s best friend

Tip 2 – Don’t assume anything

Tip 3 – If in doubt ask

Tip 4 – Consider each case on its merits

Tip 5 – Be warm and neutral

Tip 6 – Respect cultural difference

Tip 7 – Start your questions with “tell me what….”

Tip 8 – Know the purpose of your investigation

Tip 9 – Draft a terms of reference

Tip 10 – Make a written investigation plan and update it as you go

Tip 11 – Credibility is only an issue when the facts aren’t clear

Tip 12 – Get specifics from complainants

Tip 13 – Include time, date , place in allegations

Tip 14 – Everyone has a right to silence in regard to criminal conduct

Tip 15 – Invite witnesses to bring a support person

Tip 16 – Keep complainants and respondents informed during the investigation

Tip 17 – Ensure the chain of evidence for digital data

Tip 18 – Digital data can be manipulated

Tip 19 – Second hand accounts can be used but are less reliable than fist hand accounts

Tip 20 – Give respondents enough time to respond

Tip 21 – Give respondents enough information to respond

Tip 22 – Verify signature on documents if you going to rely on them

Tip 23 – Provide support services for all parties to an investigation

Tip 24 – Avoid advocating for either side before the investigation is complete

Tip 25 – Don’t comment on the outcome until the report is approved

Tip 26 – Move the respondent not the complainant

Tip 27 – Ask witnesses to sign all notes/statements or records of interviews

Tip 28 – Only suspend a person during an investigation where serious misconduct is likely to have occurred

Tip 29 – Know your policy and process before you start

Tip 30 – Don’t promise confidentiality if you can’t guarantee it

Tip 31 – Decide who will get a copy of your report before you write it.


Upward bullying

Harriet Stacey - Thursday, August 18, 2011
One aspect of bullying that receives little attention is the small but not insignificant number of cases where managers are bullied by team members.

Here's an article I've written discussing this issue that was published in this month's online Human Capital Magazine.

Upward bullying: When bosses are targets of harassment

With awareness of bullying and its insidious effects on the rise, one aspect that receives little attention is the small but not insignificant number of cases where managers are bullied by team members...

Full article...

Investigating Workplace Bullying

Harriet Stacey - Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Radion National has just aired an excellent report on the challenges facing people investigating workplace bullying. The discussion covers Brodie's Law in Victoria but also the issues for WorkSafe in making determinations in bullying cases. 

Recommended listening

Public sector wages changes a recipe for unrest

Harriet Stacey - Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Recent changes to NSW public sector wages will lead to greater employee unrest and dissatisfaction.

The contentious changes, passed recently by both Houses of Parliament, sparked an angry protest by nearly 12,000 workers in Sydney’s Macquarie Street, earlier this week.

Unfortunately this protest is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Government should brace for more fallout from disgruntled public servants.

In my experience, such sweeping changes lead to increased complaints from staff, higher levels of sick leave, absenteeism and misconduct.

Under the new legislation the NSW Government will have the power to stipulate wages and conditions for public servants.

In effect, the legislation puts a 2.5 per cent annual cap on wages increases, unless productivity savings are delivered. It also requires the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) to consent to its policy.

The NSW Opposition, Greens and unions have waged an angry campaign against the reforms, which they say will give the government unprecedented power.

But Premier Barry O'Farrell maintains the changes will not lead to any cuts in public sector wages and conditions.

Opposition Leader John Robertson says the changes will send the workplace rights of public servants "back to the dark ages".

Whichever way you look at it, significant changes to employee rights fundamentally change the way employees feel about their employers.

Government employees in particular, many of whom work in the health and care sectors, traditionally have high levels of engagement with their employers and those receiving their services.

Undermining this relationship will damage the commitment felt by staff, reduce motivation to comply with policy and compound work-related stress already present in the overloaded services.

Whilst most people will continue to comply with departmental policies, increased disengagement will have an effect on a minority and reduce their incentive to act in the best interest of the public. The policy is going to increase the incidents of corrupt conduct, misconduct and complaints.

Sadly, no one normally carries a budget for complaints management subsumed as part of a general HR budget. These issues will take up more of the pie and leave less money for “positive” staff improvements by HR departments.

The action is also likely to give rise to an increasing level of resignations in already understaffed areas such as hospitals, family services, disability services and aged care.

There is no doubt workers are very upset about the way these laws have been imposed.

The fallout that follows will be just as upsetting for Government and public sector management.

* Harriet Stacey, is the co-founder and principal of Wise Workplace Investigations.  Harriet specialises in corporate investigations and disciplinary processes. She has been involved in more than 150 investigations since the company’s inception – predominantly in the NSW public sector.

AHRI 2011

Jill McMahon - Thursday, June 16, 2011
We have all had a great time at AHRI this year!

Tony from BlueZoo joined us to demonstrate Governance Manager - a software solution that will help our clients proactively improve their approach to complaints management and professional integrity.

We all learnt a lot from discussions with Tony and other exhibitors and attendees.

Our stand at AHRI 2011

Jo deep in conversation with one of our many visitors to the stand at AHRI

Passing trafic at our stand

Lara, Craig and Jo conversing with some of our many visitors

AHRI 2011 One week to go........

Harriet Stacey - Sunday, May 29, 2011
The WISE team are looking forward to AHRI 2011 in Sydney next week. The convention provides the perfect forum for us to meet with HR professionals and find out what's really going on in their workplaces.

This year we are offering free 30 minute consultations valued at $120 plus copies of our successful book Procedural Fairness: A practical guide for workplace investigators at discount rate. 

WISE is exhibiting at stand 79, from the evening of Monday 6 June to Wednesday 8th at the Sydney Exhibition Centre Darling harbour. Attendance at the exhibition is free.