How to conduct an investigation meeting

Investigations are fact-finding exercises that collect relevant information on a matter. If you make a decision on a case without completing a reasonable investigation, this can make any subsequent decisions or actions unfair and leave you vulnerable to legal action.

Investigation meetings provide an opportunity for an investigator to interview someone who is involved in, or has information on, the matter under investigation. However, they can be difficult and emotional, particularly for someone who is under investigation or who has raised a complaint.

Here are our five top tips to help you conduct an investigation meeting with confidence:

1) Allow an interviewee to be accompanied

An employee has no statutory right to be accompanied at an investigation meeting, though this might be required under the Equality Act 2010 as part of a reasonable access requirement for a disabled employee. Alternatively, an employee may still have a contractual right to be accompanied, if not being accompanied would leave them unfairly disadvantaged.

Regardless, in many cases, it will often benefit an investigation to allow an interviewee to be accompanied. This could be by a workplace colleague, a trade union representative, or you might even consider allowing a family member or personal friend to accompany an employee if this is reasonable in the circumstances. If accompaniment does take place, the interviewee must still personally answer the questions, though they can confer with their companion before answering.

Allowing an employee to be accompanied might help you to manage the process more effectively, giving you a better opportunity to explain the steps that you are taking, as well as increasing the confidence employees have in a credible process, and helping the interviewee to feel more comfortable and willing to talk openly about the matter.

2) Plan how the investigation meeting will be recorded

An investigator may record the meeting themselves or have someone act as a note taker. It might be more beneficial to the investigator to have someone else do the note taking, as this can allow them to focus on what the interviewee says.

Every word that is said does not need to be recorded but the notes should accurately capture the key points of any discussion, as well as noting:

  • The date and place of the interview
  • Names of all the people present
  • Any refusal to answer a question
  • The start and finish times, and details of any adjournments

Some employees may ask to record the meeting, be that in a written format or using an audio device. This is a decision which you can take, though it is worth noting that this position should be made clear in your policies and procedures to ensure a consistent and fair approach.

If you wish to use an audio device to record an interview, you must get agreement from the interviewee. However, an interview may feel intimidated if they know they are being taped, making them less able to talk openly about the case. In addition, it is common to follow this up with a transcript of the recording so that it can be used as a witness statement. Therefore, audio recording can be time-consuming and overcomplicate the process, and so you should consider carefully if you feel this is necessary.

3) Be mindful of your body language

You should consider how your body language and actions might be perceived by an interviewee.

To ensure that investigation meetings are conducted fairly, professionally and impartially, you should:

  • Not fold your arms, as this can appear intimidating
  • Give an appropriate amount of eye contact
  • Be calm and face the interviewee in a relaxed body posture
  • Make appropriate facial expressions and gestures, such as nodding

You could sensitively ask why an interviewee is acting in a particular way if there appears to be discomfort or unease. However, you should remember that interviews can be stressful and should be careful about making judgements based on an interviewee’s body language.

4) Listen effectively

Effective listening will help you better understand the people you interview and their points of view. You should have a list of pre-planned questions to follow and tick off but you should also be open minded to anything that is said.

Silence should be used to encourage interviewees to elaborate on points. They should be allowed to finish their point before being asked another question, or before the interview moves on.

5) Carefully consider your questioning techniques

Different types of questions should be asked to help you control the meeting and gather the full facts of the case.

Examples of good types of questions to ask are outlined in the table below.

Question typesExample
Open questionsTalk me through what you heard…
Closed / specific questionsHow many times did that happen?
Probing questionsYou mentioned earlier that “X”… tell me more about that
Feelings questionsWhat is your main concern about what happened?
Asking “What else?”What else do I need to know about the matter?
SummariesSo can I clarify that what you are telling me is that you left your office at 11am because there was a problem outside at home. Have I got that right?

You should avoid asking:

  • Interrogative questions (e.g. “why did you do that?”) – the aim of an investigation meeting is to establish the facts rather than interrogate someone
  • Leading questions (e.g. “do you think he was perhaps behaving unprofessionally?”) – these can lead the interviewee to provide answers which the investigator hopes or expects to hear
  • Multiple questions (e.g. “what time did you arrive at the staffroom, what were you doing beforehand and who else was present at the time of the incident?”)– this can lead to confusion and the interviewee cherry-picking the questions and answering the ones that they feel most comfortable answering

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