Accompanying a colleague to an investigation

Investigation meetings: You’ve been asked to accompany and support a colleague


There are a number of formal school processes that give members of staff a legal right to be accompanied at a meeting. The formal nature of these meetings is different to informal ones where the right to be accompanied is at the employer’s discretion. An investigation is one example.

In this article we will explain the role when accompanying a colleague at an investigation, what you can and cannot do and what to expect.

What is an investigation meeting?

As the investigation name suggests, this is the start of a process where the employer wishes to find out more detail of an event or a series of events. These may lead to a disciplinary or other formal process. Depending on the school’s circumstances this may be led by a senior member of staff or maybe someone from the Local Authority, Trust team or independent appointed person.

This process will be explained in schools policy along with the stages and timeframes. You may find that someone from HR is there also to ensure process and procedure is correctly followed.

As a work based colleague you are allowed into a formal meeting by invitation. The letter the colleague will have received almost certainly will have invited them to be accompanied.

Read more on investgations here.

What is the accompaniment role?

When accompanying a colleague at an investigation the role is essentially an observer. You won’t be allowed to answer questions in an investigation meeting. The purpose of the meeting is for the school to ask questions of the employee and someone accompanying of course can’t answer those.

It is important to establish early on what the allegation is so that your colleague knows exactly what is going on. It is usual that the interviewer has a pre-prepared set of questions. Sometimes an interviewer will launch straight into their list of questions without fully setting the scene of what they are investigating.

Sometimes the content of the interview will be clear beforehand, sometimes not. It is helpful to prompt your colleague to be really clear on the events being discussed.  They can give full and relevant answers thus avoiding having to supplement answers later at the end.

Read more on the Accompaniment at a disciplinary hearing here.

Practicalities of accompanying.

The accompaniment role is a supportive one. If your colleague gets upset there is no reason why a break cannot be requested. The employer should be responsive to the request. This is an opportunity to keep the perspective for them. When they are the centre of the discussion it is hard to understand or remember everything that is going on and said or asked. You as the observer will have a better chance of doing that for them. The employer should want to do this in line with policy and part of this is allowing the workplace colleague to support. 

Read some of the law around employment based accompaniment.

Confidentiality and minuting

When accompanying a colleague at an investigation, do avoid getting drawn in. Remember it will almost definitely be a confidential process so you must keep it between you and your colleague. You cannot answer questions but may be able to ask questions for clarity if it is helpful. You are the extra eyes and ears in a stressful situation for them, and will help them remember exactly what happened later. Get them to confirm that notes will be circulated for their checking. There is nothing to stop you taking notes, but only if you feel comfortable to do so.

Sometimes there will be a minute taker but if no-one was available they may be asked if it can be recorded. This can sometimes be a shock because people are not expecting it. Recording should naturally make the notes accurate, but people get unsettled by recordings because it captures tone as well as content; inference can then sometimes be drawn on the way things are said. 

If they are really uncomfortable and don’t want it recorded, they can ask for a note taker instead; this may mean an adjournment whilst a note taker is found. If the investigator is writing their own notes it will be impossible to get an accurate verbatim account. Ensure your colleague checks that summary notes are what will be circulated for approval.

On the day

On a practical level, ask for water on the table if there isn’t any there at the start. Perhaps be ready with a small packet of tissues if someone is likely to get upset. It is also worth checking that your colleague is being covered for after the meeting is finished if it is, say, in the middle of the day. Going straight back to class afterwards can be quite hard.

Your role is personal support and neutral; you are not there to ‘support their case’ but ‘them as a colleague’.

The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
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