A basic understanding of criminal law – especially the powers and responsibilities of the police – can make for better decision-making and better outcomes for employers in criminal cases of workplace misconduct.
WISE Workplace has handled a few cases recently where the employer or HR manager either hasn’t understood the role of the police in an investigation, and/or police officers haven’t adequately explained their decision to investigate or not.
The point is that police usually have a very different agenda to that of the employer, so what might be a serious case for an employer may be regarded as trivial by police.
For example, theft is a serious offence, of course, but if you believe that an employee has been stealing cash from your business, and you report it to the police, it’s very unlikely they will conduct an investigation. That’s unless a serious amount of money is involved.
The employer will need to undertake an investigation to establish that the misconduct has occurred and present the evidence to the police, who will then decide whether to interview and charge the alleged offender.
Here are three actual cases where lack of awareness of police responsibilities and limitations caused employers to delay decisions or undertake investigations that were best undertaken by police:
Case one: police told an employer managing a case of possible breach of professional boundaries that they would undertake a criminal investigation of the alleged misconduct – even though there was no victim willing to make a complaint and no evidence that a criminal offence had occurred.
Case two: an employee who alleged that a colleague raped them at work was led to believe that the police were not the lead agency investigating the complaint – and that the employer had engaged a private investigator. Clearly, the police should have been involved from the outset because of the seriousness of this allegation.
Case three: police misled managers handling allegations of sexual offences to suggest that the complaints were not serious and ‘only amount to grooming’ – omitting to advise the employer that grooming is in fact a serious criminal offence.
So sometimes the police mislead employers because they are pursuing a different agenda. In some cases they may overstate their powers; while in others they underplay their responsibilities.
In all cases, a basic understanding of the powers and responsibilities of the police would have helped employers manage their internal procedures better.
If you believe a matter to be criminal, you should report it to the police. But the police will not necessarily take action unless the victim makes a complaint to them directly. You will need to take action.
If the police are investigating, you should allow them to conduct the interviews first – but don’t expect them to investigate the whole problem – they will focus exclusively on the criminal conduct. This probably won’t provide all the answers to workplace breaches or workers compensation issues.
If your organisation experiences recurring issues that are reported to the police, then it may be worth developing a relationship with relevant local police officials to improve communication and better understand how to respond effectively.