Improving Your Investigative Interviewing Skills

Vince Scopelliti - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

To any outsider, the job of investigative interviewing seems fairly straightforward - questions are asked and then answers are provided. Yet as we know, the job of interviewing parties in the course of a workplace investigation can be anything but simple. 

For example, the investigative interviewer must ensure procedural fairness at every step along the investigative pathway. And this raises other questions, such as can the venue of the interview impact upon fairness? Why is building rapport a key element of investigative interviews? Should I audio record?

With challenges and variables scattered throughout most investigations, it is necessary for interviewers to be skilled in the core techniques required for fair and productive outcomes. A good workplace investigator never stops refining the skills of the trade.

THE interviewing basics

Procedural fairness requires an investigative interviewer to approach the task with transparency, objectivity and care. For example, any notable bias in the way questions are asked could taint the results of the investigation. It is also essential for the interviewer to explain clearly to the witness the 'what, why and how' of the interview process before questioning begins.

Building rapport is an essential skill when conducting an effective investigative interview. Rapport is the connection created to ensure an understanding of a person's thoughts and feelings, so that effective communication can take place. 

An interviewer might offer a choice of seating, pour some water, ask about the weather outside - just as examples. The right words and actions will be gleaned from the individual characteristics of the witness. Such simple and polite techniques at the commencement of the interview can go a long way towards allaying fears and creating a more comfortable space for questioning. 

Similarly, choosing the right venue can have a surprising effect on the overall atmosphere and quality of proceedings. Questions one might ask oneself as an interviewer include: Is it appropriate to speak with this particular witness on-site? Will we have sufficient privacy? Is there a basic level of comfort? An inappropriate venue for the investigative interview can cause unnecessary distractions and discomfort; neither of which assist in producing high-quality evidence. 

to audio record the interview or not? 

One key issue to consider is this - will you record the interview or take a statement, or simply take notes? An audio recording has obvious advantages, such as providing a word-by-word account of the interview. It is, however, vital to research any particular legal requirements within your state or territory about the need to obtain consent from the interviewee to record the conversation. An audio recording of the investigative interview should demonstrate a strong and professional structure to the interview, as well as a fair approach taken to the witness. When and how to record an investigative interview can be a tricky variable to consider, and at times might require expert advice.

the peace-ful investigative interview

In the 1990's, a selection of British law enforcement officers came together in order to find a better approach to investigative interviews. They identified the need for a strong but flexible alternative to current questioning techniques. The PEACE model of interviewing was born, and it has proven invaluable to investigative interviewers. 

Five key concepts make up the acronym:

P - preparation and planning - Do you have a good list of potential questions and a thorough understanding of the scope of the investigation?

E - engage and explain - Have you built rapport, explained all procedural issues to the interviewee and provided an opportunity for questions?

A - account, clarify and challenge - Have you allowed the witness to answer responses fully, without bias or suggestion? Have you sought to clarify concerns and challenged any discrepancies in a professional manner?

C - closure - Did the witness have an opportunity to ask, clarify and add further to the interview where appropriate? And if so, have you explained any next steps and thanked them for their time?

E - evaluation - In listening to or reading back the interview, how would you evaluate the substance, quality and fairness of the process? 

The PEACE model is a great tool for mapping out key aspects of an investigative interview, thus ensuring that nothing is missed in your witness statements. 

suggestibility and free recall

Psychologists consider that every person will have a particular level of suggestibility, which can change across their lifespan. Suggestibility is the extent to which we can be persuaded to 'fill in' our memory through the suggestions of another. Children for example are particularly vulnerable to such prompting in an interview setting. 

Psychological concepts such as free recall demonstrate that memory can be affected by factors such as the timing and positioning of details as they are laid down as memories. Investigative interviewers need to take great care not to ask questions in a way that might sway or alter the facts as provided. 

Conducting investigative interviews is almost always a challenge. For more tips on how to effectively undertake interviews, purchase our book Investigative Interviewing: A Guide for Workplace Investigators, or alternatively, we provide on-site training in investigative interviewing, which can be tailored to the needs of your organisation.   

Stand By Me: The Role of the Support Person

Vince Scopelliti - Wednesday, February 28, 2018

For an employee who is on the receiving end of disciplinary action, performance management or a workplace investigation, it is an upsetting, and even a potentially traumatic experience. 

Every employee involved in such a process is entitled to have a support person present during any meetings or interviews. 

A failure to afford an employee a support person can result in the process being deemed a breach of procedural fairness, and the outcome may be declared invalid upon review.

what is the role of a support person?

The role of the support person in any interview or meeting is to provide moral and emotional support, ensure that the process is fair, and to assist with communication - they are not required, or permitted, to act as an advocate, put forward a version of events or make an argument on behalf of the employee.

While support persons are entitled to ask some questions about the process, it is crucial that they don't respond or answer questions in terms of the substance of the matter, on behalf of the employee. 

A person engaged as a translator cannot generally act as a support person at the same time.


Only in certain exceptional circumstances the employer can refuse to have a specific person sit in as a support person. 

These circumstances include where the requested support person:

  • Holds a more senior role in the organisation than the person who is conducting the interview - thereby creating a risk of undue influence or pressure by the support person on the interviewer;
  • Could be disruptive to the process or has their own agenda (such as a former employee or somebody who is known to be on bad terms with management or the executive);
  • Is involved with the subject matter of the investigation or may be witness to some of the events. A person who is involved in the investigation in some way cannot be seen to be neutral and it is not desirable for a potential witness to have access to the respondent's evidence. 

Although employers may be able to object to a specific support person who has been requested, they are required to advise employees of their right to select a different person.


When determining cases of unfair dismissal, one of the factors the Fair Work Commission considers is whether the employee was unreasonably denied the right to have a support person present during any interviews. 

Best practice for employers

To ensure best practice in disciplinary or investigative processes, the following steps should be undertaken:

  • Employees must be advised of their right to select a support person for any relevant meeting
  • Employees must have the opportunity for the meeting to be organised, within reason, at a time when the support person is available
  • The support person must receive a clear explanation of their role - that is, to provide moral support only. 
  • The employer must take into account any additional considerations that could apply, such as those involved in an Enterprise Agreement or similar negotiated agreement with the employee. 

Offering employees a support person to attend any meetings and interviews related to disciplinary action, performance management, or workplace investigation with them, is crucial to the fair outcome of these processes. 

For more detailed information on conducting interviews, you can purchase a copy of our book Investigative Interviewing: A Guide for Workplace Investigators. If you're conducting a workplace investigation and need assistance, contact WISE Workplace today.  

How Can Employers Assist Workers with Acquired Brain Injury

Vince Scopelliti - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A decision by the Queensland Court of Appeal highlights why employers must take into account the needs of workers with an acquired brain injury, in order to avoid being considered to have discriminated against them. 

In Chivers v State of Queensland (Queensland Health), the Court of Appeal heard a case pursued by Ms Chivers, who was employed as a registered nurse with Queensland Health (QH). She had an acquired brain injury from a horse riding accident in 2004. As a result of her accident, she experienced headaches and nausea and was unable to work night shifts. 

QH initially accommodated her working requirements. However, despite QH's apparent support of Ms Chivers, her probationary period was extended on three separate occasions, ostensibly to allow an assessment of her ability to work nights. Eventually, after one year, Ms Chivers resigned and claimed that QH had discriminated against her by failing to confirm her employment. 

In its defence, QH argued that working nights was a 'general occupational requirement' for registered nurses who were employed in 24/7 wards, and that Ms Chivers failed to comply. But Ms Chivers presented evidence of other nurses in permanent employment who were not required to work across all shifts, despite being employed in the same 24/7 wards. 

The Court of Appeal held that the ability to work across all shifts was not a genuine occupational requirement. 

Although there can be specific challenges when working with people suffering from an acquired brain injury, this does not mean that they can or should be discriminated against in the workforce - including when it comes to conducting workplace investigations. 

What is an acquired brain injury?

Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is the term used for any brain damage, which is sustained after birth. Causes include physical head trauma, strokes, brain tumours, brain infections, alcohol and drug abuse or neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease. This term is used to describe both permanent and temporary injuries. 

Those suffering from an ABI are likely to experience ongoing difficulties with: 

  • Concentration
  • Processing information at speed
  • Fatigue
  • Memory
  • Problem Solving and lateral thinking
  • Organisation of thoughts and activities 
  • Planning
  • Self-control and monitoring
  • Insight into personal behaviours
  • Emotional lability
  • Restlessness (physical and emotional) 

tips for managers of employees with an abi

Perhaps the greatest potential challenges are difficulties with memory, cognition and communication. When communicating with people with a disability, it is important for managers not to focus on the potential restrictions of their employees, but to consider how to get the best out of their workers. 

In the context of an ABI, this is likely to take the form of:

  • Flexible working arrangements, such as part-time or reduced hours, or the ability to call in sick with short notice. From a recruitment perspective, one of the best ways to ensure that everybody's needs are met is to ask potential employees who have declared an ABI to provide any assessment or medical treatment reports which could provide guidance as to their capacity and daily needs. New employees should be encouraged to undergo a work trial period, during which both employer and employee can consider what tweaks might be necessary to ensure that the arrangement works optimally for both parties. 
  • Developing appropriate risk mitigation strategies. This includes ensuring that both employer and employee are aware exactly what is and might be required of the employee with the ABI, so that their role is clear. Other strategies include making sure that workers compensation and medical leave certificates are appropriately filled in, even if the employee is required to take a lot of sick leave. This will help to ensure that events are well documented in case a dispute arises. 
  • Ensuring that instruction manuals and written directions are easily accessible and clear. People who suffer from an ABI may require frequent reminders and mnemonics to perform their job to their full ability, and facilitating this will help an employer to best unlock an employee's potential. 
  • Implementing a workplace buddy system. A dedicated buddy can not only provide ongoing emotional and personal support, but also assist with simple memory jogging and reminders when needed.

undertaking workplace investigations involVing an ABI

The difficulties inherent in the workforce for people suffering from an ABI are magnified when a workplace investigation needs to be conducted - regardless of whether the employee with an ABI is the victim, the respondent or a witness. 

In order to counter difficulties associated with an ABI, employers engaged in investigative interviewing should consider strategies including: 

  • Prior to conducting an interview with a person with an ABI as part of an investigation, the investigator should make an assessment about the witness' communication, including skills, abilities and whether they use any types of communication aids. 
  • Talk to other staff or human resources to obtain some further information that can assist in understanding how best to work with the employee with an ABI. 
  • Reducing distractions during the interview (for example, make sure the radio is turned off and there are no unnecessary staff sitting in on the interview). 
  • Using short and simple sentences to avoid confusion, especially when putting allegations to the interviewee. This should also include presenting information slowly and one bit at a time.
  • Giving frequent reminders of the next step - this is particularly important from a procedural perspective. From an employer's perspective, this is also important to avoid any allegations of abuse of process or discrimination. 
  • Being prepared to repeat information as often as necessary until the employee clearly understands what is being conveyed. 
  • When the employee is clearly distracted, ensuring that they are brought back to focus on the matter at hand. 

Interviewing an employee with an ABI is challenging and can be very difficult to get right. If you require a highly experienced interviewer to assist with a workplace investigation involving a person with an ABI, or any other disability, contact our investigations team today for expert assistance.

Handling a Paranoid Response to Workplace Investigations

Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In conducting workplace investigations, both the alleged victim and perpetrator and potentially even witnesses may have an intensely personal reaction to the accusations. But what happens if one of the people involved in a workplace investigation has a mental illness or otherwise suffers from poor mental health? 

In this situation, a workplace investigation can be perceived as a direct personal attack - for example, a complainant may feel that the mere fact of an investigation means that they are not taken seriously or believed in their allegations. A respondent to a complaint may feel vilified or victimised by having to respond to the claims at all. In these circumstances, it could be easy for paranoia to creep in during the investigative process. 

So what additional steps should a prudent employer take during the investigative process when dealing with an employee who struggles with their mental health? 


The State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report, released by TNS Australia and Beyond Blue, has found that 45% of all adult Australians will experience a mental health condition at one point in their lives. In addition, untreated mental illness costs Australian Workplaces almost $11 billion annually.  

This financial cost (calculated on the basis of absentee figures, 'presenteeism' where employees are physically present but not performing to their maximum capabilities, and compensation claims) is reason enough to take mental health in the workplace seriously, and to ensure that workplace investigations do not run roughshod over the rights of employees with mental health concerns. 

However, even more concerning is the potential for a poorly handled workplace investigation to exacerbate an employee's mental illness or even to cause a new psychological injury. 

It is crucial for employers to ensure that workplace investigations are conducted sensitively and have regard to any disclosed or hidden mental health issues suffered by employees. This is particularly the case given that it is an employer's legal obligation to ensure that workplaces are free from conduct which could reasonably be foreseen to cause injury, including psychological injury, to employees. A failure to do so can leave the employer exposed to a compensation claim.  


Employers must ensure that investigators don't dismiss signs of paranoia as an employee being 'silly' or simply difficult. 

It's important to recognise that the employee does genuinely feel under threat, without agreeing with them, and to lay out any evidence clearly. 

It can also be helpful to detail how the investigation will proceed to avoid the risk of misunderstandings, for example an employee deciding that more than a week has passed therefore an adverse finding must have been made against them. 

Honesty and fairness are key in any workplace investigation, but it is particularly important to demonstrate both when dealing with an employee who is feeling under attack. It's essential to remain patient, and work on building trust and rapport in interviews.  

Employees should also be able to access a support person of their choice to participate in any interviews or other formal steps of the investigation. 

Being available and following through on any actions that have been decided on, however minor, may also help lower a fearful employee's anxiety. 

If the initial complaint has caused or substantially contributed to an employee's poor mental health, and this has resulted in the employee receiving a medical certificate, an employer should consider not permitting the employee to return to work until the investigation has been resolved. Any decision along those lines should be made strictly in consultation with the employee's medical team and the employee themselves.  


    Taking these simple steps will help to ensure that your staff do not feel victimised and do not become unduly paranoid or concerned about the investigative process and potential outcomes.  

    At WISE Workplace, we can help you navigate your way through the potential minefield of workplace investigations. We offer full investigation services if you prefer to outsource, and also training to assist you in running your own investigations.

    Her Word Against His – Detecting Lies in Interviews

    Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, May 17, 2017

    One of the most challenging aspects for employers attempting to deal with workplace bullying or misconduct is getting to the truth of allegations, especially in circumstances where the apparent victim's version of events contradicts that of the alleged bully.

    Most of the time, this disparity can be put down to differences of opinion or misinterpretation of intentions.

    For example, the accused bully may have simply felt that they were performance-managing their subordinate, whereas the victim may have felt denigrated and abused. A purported victim may consider themselves to be the target of sexual harassment, while the accused bully may have simply wanted to ask them out for a friendly coffee.

    But occasionally, for whatever reason, apparent victims of bullying tell lies in the interview process and make false accusations of bullying. This could be because they dislike the alleged bully, believe the "bully" should be dealt with by management or simply because they have embellished their story and feel that they need to stick with it now that a complaint has been made.

    Regardless of the myriad reasons why a victim may lie during an investigative interview, how should this be dealt with by an employer?


    Although it is natural to sympathise with a purported victim, and perhaps unconsciously believe their version of events over that put forward by the alleged perpetrator, the most important function of a workplace investigator is to establish the truth surrounding the allegations.

    It is therefore imperative that any preferential bias in favour of the apparent victim is removed. If you do not feel that you can adequately perform an interview without such bias, whether because of your relationship with the victim/bully or because you can personally relate to the allegations of bullying, ensure that another person is tasked with conducting the interviews.


    Once the claimed victim is participating in the interview process, ensure that you are observing any cues which may indicate that they are not telling the truth. These could include:

    • Overly elaborate stories and excessive irrelevant detail, suggesting an invented story,
    • Gestures and words not matching each other in context, implying that the words have been rehearsed.
    • Whether the story makes sense – is it even plausible that the allegations being made against the bully could be true?
    • A lack of consistency – is the interviewee telling the same story each time or are details changing?

    Of course, these can be subjective indicators. It is important to tread carefully when deciding whether a victim is lying about their version of events: making an unfounded and inaccurate accusation can cause even greater distress to an innocent victim.

    In this regard it can be helpful to have another person sit in on the interview with you, so that they can provide their own opinion on whether the version of events being provided is accurate, and temper your initial reactions.


    Once the alleged victim has provided their version of events and it is apparent that this contradicts that of the claimed bully, it is essential to seek corroborating evidence to either prove or disprove the victim's story.

    In addition to speaking with third party witnesses, such as other staff members at work at the time of the alleged incident, this could include evidence such as reviewing CCTV footage, checking personnel files for prior complaints or even performing basic checks such as making sure that both employees involved in the complaint were even working together at the relevant time.

    Conducting a workplace investigation is a complex task, often requiring specialist knowledge and experience. WISE Workplace can assist with conducting interviews if you wish to safeguard the investigation process by avoiding any allegations of bias or favouritism, or are otherwise concerned that the interviewee may not give the full version of events. Please feel free to contact us for more information.

    A Perplexing Problem: Protecting Children Overseas

    Harriet Witchell - Thursday, April 20, 2017

    Every year billions of Australian dollars are provided to fund aid projects overseas. The money is targeted to assist developing countries with education, housing, health and community projects. Naturally children are a prime target group for these aid programs.  The majority of these organisations are funded by the Australian public via donations and government funding provided to not-for-profit organisations, many of them faith based organisations.

    International rules and expectations govern the protocols for handling and responding to allegations related to child protection, however, enforcing these laws is a tricky business often involving multiple jurisdictions and multiple agencies who may disagree around responsibilities and liabilities.

    Policies and procedures are not enough to protect children who are by definition amongst the most vulnerable in the world.

    Small operations, voluntary management and high dependency on the goodwill of front end service delivery mitigate against strong child protection regimes. Poor oversight due to long distance, remoteness and cultural differences are also key features of this problem.

    Funding bodies in Australia are expected to have high quality child protection systems and policies in place to gain government funding but the challenge of enforcing or even providing adequate training in the expectations to the end providers of the service can be beyond reach.

    Now that we know that we cannot unquestioningly depend on the nature of goodly people to act without harming children, what cost do we place on the need to provide secure safe environments for children receiving charitable services?

    Documents provided to the Guardian relating to the level of abuse within detention centres on Nauru demonstrate the abject failure of outsourced government funded programs. How then do we expect small voluntary projects to be faring against these standards?

    It is clear that policies and procedures are woefully inadequate yet how much of the donated money do we want spent on compliance when it comes to protecting children?

    WISE Workplace is regularly requested to undertake investigations of allegations made against staff overseas who are working or administering charitable projects. The work requires a high level understanding of the environment, the agency, funding requirements, boards and community management structures, and the local culture and cultural background of staff and service recipients. The work remains some of the most challenging to investigate. Weak employment relationships can lead to inconclusive outcomes and an inability to enforce any restrictions on volunteers in the field.

    For those organisations with managers in Australia trying to manage complaints or allegations arising from activities overseas, using the support of experienced investigators can be a godsend melding the investigative skills of experienced child protection investigators with the cultural and service delivery expertise of the coordinators working for the agency.

    Our top 10 list of must do’s if you are a coordinator of a charity funded project overseas:

    1. Nominate a single contact person with responsibility for dealing with complaints related to child protection within your agency

    2. Have clearly articulated Child Protection Standards and Guidelines

    3. Have clearly articulated procedures for dealing with complaints

    4. Understand the criminal law in the country of service delivery

    5. Understand the employee relationship between the funding body and the service providers on the ground

    6. Know your legal obligations under your primary funding agency agreement

    7. Respond quickly to complaints

    8. Conduct a risk assessment and take protective action if necessary

    9. Identify a suitable contact person on the ground in the foreign country to be a liaison pain

    10. Seek specialist help when complaints are serious or complex to investigate.

    WISE Workplace runs regular training programs on the principles of undertaking workplace investigations. Our facilitators have extensive experience and expertise in managing all kinds of challenging investigations including running operations overseas via Skype using local contacts. Our unique Investigating Abuse in Care course provides valuable skills in how to assess complaints, reporting obligations, drafting allegations, interviewing victims and respondents, making decisions and maintaining procedural fairness. Book now for courses in May 2017.

    Building Rapport in Investigative Interviews

    Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

    All workplaces are at risk of allegations of bullying, harassment, discrimination or other claims of misconduct or inappropriate dealings. As such, all employers must be prepared to conduct investigative interviews to determine the veracity and accuracy of any allegations made against or by one or more of their employees.

    Apart from properly eliciting the facts, perhaps the most important thing in conducting such interviews is ensuring that there is sufficient rapport between the interviewer and the interviewee. This connection can result in more information being obtained from the interviewee, and also help ensure that more truthful answers are provided.

    So what are our top tips on achieving this?


    There is no "one size fits all" approach when it comes to building rapport in investigative interviews, it's about tailoring the approach to suit the particular circumstances and the interviewee.

    For example, there is probably little point running through a standard set of formal questions when interviewing children. Similarly, an employee who claims to be the victim of workplace bullying is unlikely to want to make idle small talk about how the company's netball team is faring in the local comp.


    It is crucial that interviewers are competent and know which questioning techniques to use in which situation in order to put the interviewee at ease and obtain quality information.

    For example, taking the interviewee back in time to when the incident occurred can help with recall, while asking open-ended questions can assist in obtaining more detailed explanations.


    One of the most important aspects of building rapport is to make sure the interviewee is relaxed. Ensure that there is adequate privacy for the interview to take place away from the prying eyes and ears of co-workers, and offer comfortable seating and beverages. It is essential to create a sense of trust in the interviewee, by making them comfortable, conveying an impression of competence and expertise, and by actively listening to them. If this occurs, the interviewee is more likely to feel comfortable divulging information.


    A tip frequently utilised by law enforcement officials in conducting investigative interviews is to mirror the interviewee. This involves actively listening to what the interviewee is saying and "mirroring" or reflecting their mental state and emotions, such as expressing frustration about the way in which they have been treated, demonstrating understanding and validation of their feelings, and acknowledging that their experiences are significant and potentially very destabilising.

    Mirroring is also closely aligned with the principle of reciprocity, which suggests that interviewees will respond in a way which matches the interviewer's attitude towards and interaction with them. An empathetic or obviously interested interviewer will doubtlessly elicit more information than one with an aggressive or unpleasant style.

    It is particularly important to find factors of commonality and shared experiences if there is a power imbalance between the interviewer and the interviewee (such as a relationship of employer and employee or an external workplace investigator who is effectively a stranger). This can be as simple as discussing recent weather events, the traffic or sporting teams.


    Conducting investigative interviews generally can be challenging. For more tips on how to undertake interviews in the workplace, participate in one of our upcoming advanced training courses on conducting investigations.

    Alternatively, if you prefer to obtain expert assistance from the get-go, Wise Workplace provides full investigation services. Contact us today to find out how we can help with your workplace investigations.

    Bullying: What's the Role of Leadership?

    Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, April 05, 2017

    Workplace bullying is somewhat of a scourge in modern society. Broadly categorised by Reach Out Australia as any behaviour which is physically, mentally or socially threatening and takes place in the employment context, it can have an enormous impact on staff effectiveness, employee retention, the number and type of worker's compensation claims and, of course, employee happiness.

    Legally, employers have a responsibility to ensure that all workplaces are safe for their staff, including preventing workplace bullying. So what are the key things business leaders should be doing to tackle this problem?


    Perhaps the easiest way to deal with workplace bullying is to try and ensure that it does not happen. As suggested by Safework Australia, workplace bullying can best be prevented by the leadership team identifying potential risk factors within the organisation for bullying.

    In addition to ensuring that new staff, wherever possible, are likely to mesh with other employees and not experience personality clashes, this process should also involve regular consultation with employees as to their levels of job satisfaction and the quality of interaction with co-workers, conducting exit interviews with departing employees, obtaining regular feedback and ensuring that there are detailed incident reports recording complaints and other potential instances of workplace bullying behaviour.

    Being aware of possible triggers for workplace bullying can also be an effective strategy, for example, awareness of the various leadership styles in the organisation. Ensuring adequate communication between management and employees and requesting forthright feedback on work styles and interactions can help to reduce the risk of workplace bullying significantly.


    It is important for leaders to be empathetic and open when speaking with a claimed victim of workplace bullying. Remember that the person alleging bullying, whether this has actually taken place or not, is already harbouring strong negative feelings about the workplace, or at the very least certain people in the workplace.

    A heavy-handed or suspicious approach by the employer is likely to further upset the employee and worsen the ongoing impact and consequences of the bullying. At the same time, a leader investigating a workplace bullying claim does not need to blindly accept everything put forward by the apparent victim.

    Both the "bully" and the "victim" are the employer's responsibility, and both are therefore entitled to have their full version of events listened to and acted upon appropriately.


    In the worst case scenario, an employee's bullying allegations may become the subject of legal proceedings.

    This means a record of conversations and interactions between senior staff and claimed victims of workplace bullying may become essential evidence. In any event, regardless of the possible outcome, it is always best practice to ensure that all conversations with management are properly recorded, not least to make sure that further claims of workplace bullying are not levelled against management!


    Depending on the size and type of your workplace, ensuring that investigations are conducted impartially may be difficult. In certain cases, it may be more appropriate to engage external workplace investigators to review workplace bullying complaints.

    However, if employers choose to keep investigations in-house, prejudgement of the ‘facts’ or a bias toward one side or the other must be avoided. Where possible, it can be helpful to task someone who doesn’t work directly with either party with the investigation.

    Negotiating the many tricky aspects of investigating workplace bullying complaints can be very stressful. At Wise Workplace, we provide advanced training courses in conducting workplace investigations, to make you and your leadership team as self-sufficient as possible. Register for an upcoming course date now.

    The secret to a successful investigative interview – building rapport

    Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, June 01, 2016


    We’re all guilty of it: we ask a question that we don’t really expect to be answered in full. We’ve been socialised to do this; “how’s it going?” really means “I see you.” The usual answer “good” completes the interaction, but often isn’t even true!

    Investigators have to learn to listen. And listening well means going beyond just hearing and recording and actually building a relationship of trust, that leads to mutual understanding.

    That relationship, or sense of “closeness,” is called rapport. It’s one of the most important skills an investigator can develop. It needs to be authentic – it can’t be forced. Genuine rapport produces results.

    Importantly, it creates an environment where the interviewee can be heard without judgement and helps the investigator establish any cognitive limitations in the interviewee.

     Professor Ray Bull gives advice on how to best build rapport.

    Rapport is not about being “soft”; it doesn’t mean fake encouragement or comments that create an impression that you’re on their side. And it certainly doesn’t mean avoiding tough questions.

    To build rapport, an investigator needs to show competence, confidence, empathy, interest and a willingness to listen. It requires both verbal and non-verbal techniques.

    Simple things such as personal introductions, smiling, leaning forward, paying attention to an interviewee, using moderate eye contact and a warm voice, help create rapport.

    Rapport-building typically starts with the investigator providing a welcome and introductions, supported by positive non-verbal communication that can include physical contact, such as a handshake or some other culturally-appropriate gesture. In this way, the two parties are welcomed into the interview and a tone is set.

    Next, the investigator takes the lead by showing interest in the interviewee, by asking questions about them. This could include asking where they’re from, what they do and about their work history.
    The conversation initially should be unrelated to the matter under investigation, but not so disassociated that it’s difficult to bring the conversation back to the primary reason for the interview – and not so long that the interviewee becomes impatient.

    Rapport-building doesn’t stop after introductions are complete, but should continue throughout the interview.

    The goal is always to go beyond a mere question-answer “transactional” approach to information gathering, but instead move towards a proper conversation, that engages the interviewee and elicits the most complete account possible. Because “Good” just isn’t good enough!

    Outsourcing investigations? Top 5 Tips on selecting an investigator

    Harriet Witchell - Wednesday, May 04, 2016


    Sometimes you just can’t or shouldn’t conduct a misconduct investigation in-house.  Where there are conflicts of interest or specialist skills required, organisations may be best suited to engaging the services of a private provider to obtain the information required for the business to make the right decisions.

    But how do you know if the service you contract will be provided? Investigations are notorious for over-running on budget, exploding the terms of reference and, if not handled correctly, can cause more problems than they solve.

    So how do you make sure the investigation company you use can deliver what it promises? 

    The most important thing is TRUST.  You have to trust someone else with one of the most delicate and important aspects of your business. If they get it wrong it could lead you down an expensive path of litigation and court hearings.

    How do you find them?

    Personal referral - a tried and tested method, but limits your pool to your personal contacts.  Linkedin has extended this pool but wherever you get a personal referral make sure it is from personal experience and not just a friendship. 

    Google is goodCheck out a company’s online presence.  A company can provide the reliability and consistency that sole practitioners may lack. Companies also have resources to maintain skill levels and ensure business continuity in case of misadventure. Search terms such as ‘workplace investigator’, ‘bullying investigations’, ‘HR investigator’ or ‘investigations’ should all turn up results.  Don’t forget to add your location, country or state for local service providers.

    Conduct an interview – once you have narrowed down the field for 2 or 3, give them a ring. Interview the firm or the individual.  Find out how they manage investigations and sound out their expertise. Ask for estimates and quotes, investigation plans and other information. Professionalism shown here is a good indication that the company will provide you with excellent customer service. 

    Are they qualified?

    Make sure the company and the investigator you use has a current private inquiry licence. It is little known and little adhered to, but across Australia individuals conducting workplace investigations must either be practising solicitors or licenced investigators.  Ensuring minimum levels of training and a code of conduct, licensing demonstrates the commitment of the individual and company to provide quality investigation services. 

    Trust doesn’t stop with a licence however, you also need a business that can demonstrate:







    What sets one company above another?

    This will depend on the case you have and your company priorities. Some of the typical issues are speed, cost and sensitivity.  You will need to identify which service provider will meet your priorities and provide an investigator with the best matched set of skills and expertise for your case.

    So – In short,  here are my Top 5 tips! 

    1. Don’t just rely on personal referral
    2. Check relevant experience
    3. Make sure the business is licenced and individuals qualified
    4. Ensure they can meet your priorities
    5. Place focus on excellent customer service

    Harriet Stacey has been managing workplace investigations for 15 years. She has developed a reputation for high ethical standards and quality investigations. Best practice protocols can be invaluable resources to business. So we have developed a Workplace Investigations Toolkit to help support in house management of investigations. See our free investigations flow chart and many more useful resources on our website Wise Workplace.