News International and the integrity of the investigations into the News of the World phone hacking allegations continue to dominate public life.  Meanwhile, investigations in the workplace may not be so high profile but they do remain an important feature and, if poorly handled, can create a costly distraction from day to day business leading to claims of unfairness.

The News International media coverage has reinforced the importance of impartiality, together with a level of investigation that matches the particular circumstances and these elements are fundamental to any efficient internal investigation.

A former Metropolitan police assistant commissioner’s decision to accept hospitality from News International while leading the first police investigation in 2006 was, this week, queried by a Parliamentary select committee and criticised by the President of the Association of Chief of Police Officers who said “in those precise circumstances it seems an unwise decision”.  The question marks around impartiality have generated concerns regarding the integrity of the individual and the decisions taken at the time.

The thoroughness of the investigations into the News of the World allegations, including internal, police and the press complaints commission, have also come under scrutiny, with dramatic results: Murdoch’s withdrawal of his bid for BSkyB; News International’s reputation globally; the closure of the News of the World; individual reputations; and a planned Public Inquiry.

Workplace investigations have the potential to go before an Employment Tribunal and examined under the Employment Rights Act 1996.  Whether a reasonable investigation has been carried out can be a vital factor and the terms of reference should be considered carefully at the outset of any investigation, with reviews throughout the process.

What is a reasonable workplace investigation?

The particular circumstances of the case determine the depth of the investigation

Carried out in line with relevant organisational policies and procedures

The objective is to establish the facts of the matter, not to prove someone’s guilt


Employment law cases – useful reading

British Home Stores Ltd v Burchell (1978)

Gateshead Council v Hope (April 2011)





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