Witness Competency in Workplace Investigations

Can we rely upon an elderly service user’s evidence accusing a Care Support Worker of theft (or abuse) when we know the service user is often confused and mistaken?

In the normal course of HR, potential disciplinary action or investigations are decided on tangible evidence. However, when the reliability of evidence is called into question, or the service user is known to be confused, this affects evidence reliability.

Whether a disciplinary process relies on or ignores evidence can make the difference between no action and a gross-misconduct termination. The answer has to be, as with most HR issues, in the individual facts of each case.

Looking at the circumstances (e.g.—conducting investigations) carefully should consider:

  • previous allegations from the same service user.
  • the strength of the allegations.
  • how they came about or where notified.
  • a common sense review of the facts.
  • has the accuser been interviewed?
  • does the service user like the support worker?
  • are there other reasons the service user may have to get the provider moved or terminated?
  • what’s the timing?
  • the items stolen or abuse said to have occurred.

Investigations are key to issues like this and also ensuring transparency by considering every angle and considering all options.

It would equally be wrong to suggest that ‘Dorothy is always making stupid claims, let’s ignore it’ as it would to say ‘allegations of theft require immediate suspension no matter what even though it will be two weeks before we can form a panel for a hearing’.

The sensible approach should be somewhere in the middle but to evidence findings, investigations and discussions as you go along, or form a panel. Addressing the employee’s length of service, speaking with other care support workers, visiting this client, reviewing previous issues, other witnesses, family members and other common sense approaches are all important to consider.

It’s obvious that an employer would be criticised for relying upon confused or inconsistent allegations but it happens more often than you may think. By predicting these risks, HR departments can stay one step ahead and highlight the dangers to reduce risks.

Many employers in the care field now have informal policies of staff not taking handbags or personal items into service user’s homes, particularly where issues have previously occurred.

But probably the best measure is training to alert managers of any accusations promptly and ensure your policies support your right to move employees to different work or rotas in such instances.

Should you have any questions feel free to reach out to our help line. DLP advisors are available to answer any questions you may have at 0330 400 4495.

Photo by joyce huis.

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