Act fast on funny business in the workplace
Dealing with workplace fraud
By Rhiannon Elston
Taking note of strange incidents or unusual behaviour in the workplace could save a lot of trauma for employers and staff further down the track.
That’s the advice from Jo Kamira, former police investigator and Principal of WISE Workplace Investigations, who has dealt with hundreds of cases of bullying, fraud and staff misconduct in work environments.
Even the slightest indication something isn’t right should throw up a red flag, she says.
In one case investigated by WISE, a junior finance clerk found cab charge claims from a senior employee with a company car. The suspicious staffer reported the incident, and further probing found dozens of similar claims. That’s when Ms Kamira’s team was called in.
"He had actually defrauded the company of thousands of dollars," she says.
Employers faced with similar problems should "deal with it straight away," she adds. "That way you won’t need to get us involved."
If it’s too late for early intervention, WISE are able to conduct an unbiased, expert analysis of the problem.
"We get called in when things get out of hand," explains Ms Kamira.
Typical cases investigated by WISE include things like "employee harassment, misuse of corporate credit cards – what’s reasonable and what’s not?"
The team will conduct interviews and review procedures before making a detailed report of the problem to an appointed manager or "someone who is impartial," says Ms Kamira.
Jo Kamira’s ten tips for employers to help them survive a workplace investigation: </strong>
Don’t keep staff in the dark
Be open to staff
They do not need to know the details of the investigation but it does help if they know there is something happening in the work area. When you can, provide a brief explanation of what has gone and remind staff of their obligations in relation to your particular Code of Conduct. If you don’t tell them, the rumour mill will go into overload!</ol>
Not all investigators are alike
The investigator should be empathetic and inform you or their project manager of any potential problems they can see arising in the workplace as a result of the investigation.</ol>
Choose the right liaison person
Allocate a good communicator to keep an open dialogue with the investigator so the organisation remains fully informed throughout the investigation.</ol>
Timing is everything
Sometimes, in difficult matters, respondents and complainants will drag an investigation out in the hope it will ‘go away’ or to flex muscle. Those involved say they are not available for interview or claim their ‘support person’ is not available. It is important to nip these situations in the bud for everyone’s sanity. With your support, a good investigator will address these problems with you.</ol>
Dealing with workplace stress
Be alert for additional stress in the workplace created by the investigation and have a plan in place to deal with it such as referring a staff member to an Employee Assistance Program.</ol>
Check your attitude
Don’t view a workplace investigation as an inconvenience or drama. Accept such incidents can be a fact of life in the workplace. If they do occur, see it as confirmation your policies are working. </ol>
Learn from the experience
Treat an investigation as an opportunity to change something is not working or to strengthen existing policies and programs. An investigation MUST be a learning experience for a workplace. It is of little use to undergo an investigation and not use the experience to enable and strengthen the workplace. The investigation can be a strong indicator of where holes are appearing and what policies need to be tightened up. It can also be a tool to empower Team Leaders and Managers.
Don’t take it personally
Resist becoming involved with criticism or complaints from those directly involved in the complaint. As the manager of the parties involved, you are responsible for ensuring certain procedures occur at the right time and that people are provided with procedural fairness. You do not have to be abused or accept criticism from individuals for things outside your control. If you do cop criticism, understand the stress that complainants and respondents are under and refer them to the appropriate place for support.</ol>
An essential phase of any investigation is the implementation of change stemming from the recommendations in a report. Failure to implement recommendations is a common criticism of any major report or inquiry and will only serve to generate future complaints around the same issues. </ol>
How to improve staff morale
Staff usually want to know what is happening in the workplace. Once an investigation has finished it is important that there is a debrief, especially if the investigation involves misconduct. The old adage that ‘justice must be seen to be done’ is important in workplaces, especially if there is a public ethos of ‘walking the talk’. Do not disclose specific details, but a general debrief can do wonders for morale.
<strong>Jo Kamira is the Principal of WISE Workplace Investigations. <a href="http://www.wiseinvestigations.com.au" title="http://www.wiseinvestigations.com.au">www.wiseinvestigations.com.au</a></strong>