When it is necessary to conduct an interview to discover facts affecting an event concerning an employee (e.g. for the proposed application of DISCIPLINE , CAPABILITY, counselling etc.) it is safest before making any decision to ensure a proper and full investigation of the reasons is undertaken, in order to discover the background,.

With most investigations the ultimate aim is to attempt to find a solution - to do this, information is essential, as is keeping any meeting as informal as possible.

Suggested Checklist

1. Find as many facts as possible before the meeting, including as many personal details as possible. Knowing these may aid rapport and encourage a feeling that here is someone who understands and cares.

2. Although a one-to-one meeting is helpful, this may be impractical if the two parties are of different sexes and the subject matter is personal. The intervention of any third party should not, however, be forced on the subject who may resent it. If the subject is directly related to the sex of the employee, an interview might best be conducted by a member of the same sex.

3. Be tactful and allow plenty of time. If there is an emotional response, using recesses for short periods may be helpful.

4. Provide refreshments and allow those who wish to smoke, to do so. This may be a valuable method of relaxing smokers and a way of encouraging a discussion of the problem. If there is a site 'no smoking rule', either the discussion room should be exempt from the requirements, or the discussion should take place 'off-site'.

5. Ensure the interview is confidential and protected from unwarranted intrusion - including phone-calls.

6. Try to move to some initial solution however skeletal or capable only of implementation in stages.

7. With ongoing personal problems suggest arranging for referral to experts (for example, Samaritans, doctors, solicitors and so on).

8. Take notes of what transpires. This is particularly important where there are disciplinary matters pending.

9. Keep the employees immediate superior informed of progress.

10. Update on progress as necessary.

The Process
If the interview is part of the disciplinary process the first step is to investigate the circumstances and, if applicable, hold interviews and take witness statements (see below). The person conducting the investigation must approach the process with an open mind. It is not for them to make any decision - their job is to discover all the facts or circumstances of the incident, and to lay them before others who may or may not decide to hold a disciplinary hearing. Thus, the investigator must gather all the evidence - no matter which way it seems to slant the 'case'. The investigator must not be selective - everything must be discovered and recorded. This will entail inviting everyone to contribute no matter how unlikely it may seem that they have anything to offer.

The investigation report should contain:

i. details of the incident and/or alleged offence;

ii. a complete summary all the evidence and data discovered (which will probably be mainly contained in witness statements derived from interviews);

iii. details of any conflicting evidence;

iv. any other background information (for example, the fact that there had been previous animosity between two employees could be valuable information where the investigation followed a claim by one that the other had attacked him, or where one persons claimed version of an incident was so much at variance with the others); and

v. (if asked for) opinions or conclusions.

It may help justice being seen to be done if a copy of an investigation report of a matter subsequently the subject of disciplinary proceedings is made available to the employee under investigation.

Witness Statements
It is usually helpful for statements to be taken from those who become 'involved' with an event by their proximity to it. Whilst this may seem to be a relatively straightforward task, there are a number of aspects which need to be addressed.

1. Request statements from eye witnesses and any others involved, respecting any unwillingness evinced by some employees. No pressure should be brought to bear to try to generate a witness statement. It would be extremely damaging for such pressure to be made public and the knowledge could undermine the value of the statement.

2. Statements should be taken as soon as possible after the event. Not only will this mean that evidence is being taken whilst it is still fresh in the mind of the onlooker, but also it should minimise the recollection becoming biased by pressure of colleagues and others.

3. To take a statement, a quiet and secure room must be used, with only the interviewer, witness and another note-taking member of management present. If the interviewee wishes to have someone present on their behalf this should be allowed, but they should be instructed to keep silent. Alternatively, it may be preferable to tape record the meeting in which case a verbatim record can be made later, rather than attempting to do so at the time.

4. No attempt should be made to cross-examine the witness, who should simply be asked for their recollection of the facts as the witness saw or understood them. Clarification of unclear points should be attempted but using entirely open questions, thus avoiding the possibility of accusations that words were put into the mouth of the witness.

5. The exact words of the witness (even if ungrammatical) should be used as this will tend to evidence the veracity of the statement.

6. A witness form should be used to ensure the collation of all necessary information - or for a verbatim record if a tape recording has been taken.

7. The witness should be requested to sign the form. If the witness is unwilling to do so - do not insist, but simply note this on the form and request the member of management present to initial the note of the fact and to confirm that, as far as possible, the exact words of the witness have been used and that the statement is a fair record of what was said at the meeting.

In order to ensure that such statements are comprehensive, they should be checked to ensure they contain at least the following information:

Witness Statement Form Data
1. Employers name.

2. Details (date, place, time, etc.) of incident being investigated.

3. Confirmation that this is a statement by witness giving name, occupation, etc.

4. Confirmation of names and positions of those present.

5. Reason for witness being able to see the incident.

6. Position in which witness was able to see incident.

7. Date, place and time of taking of statement.

8. Full details of what was observed, sequence of events, names of other persons present, believed facts of injury or other occurrence, etc. in witness's own words as far as possible.

9. Signature of witness or confirmation by note-taker that record is a fair version of what was said and that the witness, whilst prepared to make it, was not prepared to sign the statement, etc.

Information taken in this way to form part of a witness statement may be subject to legal disclosure requirements (that is it can be required by a claimant to be produced for the purpose of legal action). Legal advice should be taken if the content is likely to be prejudicial to one's own case - i.e. it may be a situation where it would be wiser not to ask certain questions - or even to take the statement at all (although, of course, there is nothing to stop the other side, should they be aware of the potential of the testimony, calling the witness themselves).