Interviewing witnesses is a crucial part of any workplace investigation but it can sometimes be difficult to extract reliable evidence. According to the rules of evidence, hearsay, opinions and assumptions are not admissible in court and you should avoid using unsound evidence to make a decision on allegations of misconduct in the workplace.
There are a number of potential issues that investigators should be aware of when they are interviewing witnesses in relation to a workplace matter. Here are a few guidelines to help you make sure you get the most accurate and relevant information when interviewing witnesses.
Seek explanations for assumptions
When interviewing it’s important to probe any offhand statements or assumptions that the witness may state. Asking why they believe something happened can reveal useful information or direct evidence and also can indicate weaknesses in the evidence. As memories can fade over time, it’s important that you gather as much information and explanation for the different behaviour as possible. If it is revisited at a later date, the witness may have forgotten the details
Take a wider view
Make sure you look at and ask about all the background circumstances which surrounded the alleged incident. This can often provide useful context for the allegations and any resultant behaviour on the part of either party. In many cases an apparently straightforward issue can be indicative of a wider problem and taking the background circumstances into consideration can give investigators valuable insight.
Learn the signs of avoidance
Often if someone has something to hide, they will avoid answering a question directly. As an interviewer, knowing the signs of avoidance can alert you to the fact that someone is trying to hide information. Ensure that your interviewee tells you what did happen rather than what should have happened or what ‘would have’ happened under different circumstances.
Interviewing witnesses for a workplace investigation can take patience but it is important that any evidence which is used to make a final decision complies with the rules of evidence. If there is a dispute over the final outcome of an investigation and the matter goes to court, any evidence or witness statements that aren’t admissible won’t be taken into consideration. This could lead to a reversal of any decisions made and extensive legal costs.
Written by Vince Scopelliti from WISE Workplace Melbourne office