Sydney Morning Herald | Call in the experts

By Melinda Rollinson

In a time of royal commissions and the #MeToo movement, bad behaviour in the workplace has never been more scrutinised.

Employers are increasingly aware that problems can no longer be swept under the carpet and ignored.

But dealing with these issues requires skills that most employers just don’t have. If the parties involved work closely together or complaints involve senior management, outsourcing may quickly become an attractive option.

Rose Bryant-Smith is a workplace investigator whose company, Worklogic, has conducted workplace investigations all over Australia and overseas. ‘‘Investigators conduct fact-finding investigations of complaints that are made about misconduct in the workplace, like bullying, fraud and sexual harassment,’’ she says.

They may also advise on whether an employee has breached employment policies and whether disciplinary action should be taken.

Workplace investigators tend to have a good understanding of how individuals and teams can clash and become dysfunctional.

‘‘We partner with the employer to manage risk, comply with their industrial relations obligations, find pathways for employees who are lost and struggling and get everybody back to work,’’ says Bryant-Smith.

The backgrounds of workplace investigators can be varied. Bryant-Smith was an employment and industrial relations lawyer while many investigators are former police officers, human resource advisors or government ombudsmen employees. Because of the variety of backgrounds, the quality of services provided can be inconsistent. In some states, there are no regulatory bodies for the industry.

‘‘Many workplace investigators don’t have a licence or qualifications and only some employers will insist on that,’’ says Bryant-Smith.

One of the biggest draws of this type of work for Bryant-Smith is the satisfaction of supporting a group as they work through a toxic situation, ending up with a functional and happy team. But it’s not always straightforward.
‘‘I enjoy the intellectual challenge of solving complex problems, judging the credibility of the witnesses in the investigation and making a judgment about what really happened,’’ she says.

Bryant-Smith runs a team of 20 investigators, mediators and trainers, and has worked with a range of clients including large mining companies, non-profit organisations, hospitals and local businesses.

‘‘The variety of workplaces we see is really fascinating. I have worn steel-capped boots more times than you might imagine.’’

Bryant-Smith’s investigations have involved nightshift visits, interviews in remote locations and handling all manner of evidence. And some of her cases have been stranger than others including dead fish in desks, stolen lunches and complex frauds that have spanned many years. ‘‘There are so many bizarre and unusual things that people do to each other in workplaces,’’ she says.

Unlike Bryant-Smith, Claire Alder has set up her workplace investigator business in Sydney as a solo practitioner. She predominantly services public sector clients which include departments working with vulnerable children, adults with disabilities and people who are incarcerated.

Alder was attracted to the work because she could utilise her legal skills in a career which offered much in the way of variety.

‘‘I enjoy the fact that I can have five or six cases on the go at any one time, sometimes more, and each one will have different complexities and types of misconduct,’’ she says.

As a former criminal barrister and deputy district judge, Alder has always worked for herself. In her current role, this allows her to be discerning about which cases she takes on.

‘‘I value my independence. I also find that it suits me to be involved in all aspects of the investigation,’’ she says.

The flexibility of working alone appeals to her. ‘‘I enjoy the fact that the work allows me to combine my days with other pursuits,’’ she says. ‘‘It also enabled me to be available for my children when they were younger.’’

But there are downsides to this setup. The lack of backup can make it a juggle ensuring reports are delivered on time if unexpected developments crop up in other investigations. Having no colleagues can be isolating and with no one to delegate to, Alder gets little downtime.

‘‘I run my business 24 hours a day so I don’t actually switch off,’’ she says. ‘‘When I do go on leave, I’m always available still.’’

For Alder, the rewards of the job are plentiful. When an investigation involves vulnerable people, Alder enjoys knowing that she has played a part in ensuring that they are protected. And she is constantly mindful of her responsibility to investigate fairly and without bias as the consequences for those involved are potentially life altering.

‘‘It’s rewarding knowing that I have the skills and experience to ensure that the person under investigation is being given a fair and impartial hearing,’’ she says.

This article was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age