Super sleuths get to the root of workplace issues

When Kate Julian and Kerry Tattersall say they are licensed private investigators people usually assume they are tracking errant partners and are disappointed to learn that’s not the case. The reality is that they and their fellow Baker Tilly Staples Rodway “PI”s disentangle difficult and sometimes emotional employment issues, and provide unbiased investigations for employers.

Time to read: 4 mins

The importance of PI certification came to the forefront after a landmark case in 2020, in which a workplace investigation was deemed to have breached the Private Security Personnel and Private Investigators Act 2010 because those who conducted it did not hold private investigator licenses or appropriate certification at the time.

That’s not an issue for Kate and Kerry, and their fellow HR specialists Chris Wright, Mattie Smith, Bhavika Singh and Andrew Dickeson (from BTSR Auckland), who are licensed private investigators under the Private Security Personnel Licensing Authority.

Kerry, who is from BTSR Hawke’s Bay, says New Zealand employers have a duty to investigate any complaint made by an employee “regardless of whether they believe the claim is founded or not”. This is due to legislation that sits within the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (because behaviours can be a hazard).

She says licensed private investigators understand the full process and follow it to the letter. They dig down to the root of issues to find out what caused certain behaviours and outcomes, then publish their findings without giving recommendations to ensure that they don’t blur the lines of impartiality.

Kerry says in the past month alone, she’s done more employment investigations than in the preceding six months. She attributes it to employees knowing their rights and employers’ responsibilities under their duty of care. COVID-19 and the tight labour market may also be contributors – employees being less likely to tolerate perceived grievances post COVID-19 and knowing that the current skills shortage will make it easier for them to find work elsewhere.

Kate, who works for BTSR Auckland, says many organisations don’t realise they might need a licensed PI or a lawyer with a current practising certificate when investigating serious misconduct or a succession of incidents amounting to that. “It’s not super well-known that you need that license to be doing employment investigations. There are probably people who are comfortable doing it without that, but to me that’s a pretty big risk,” says Kate.

“Misconduct” might cover anything from bullying, discrimination, harassment and inappropriate conduct to possible instances of embezzlement, fraud and theft. “What we deal with most of the time is conflict between employees because that is the hardest one for employers to weave through. It can be difficult to prove conflict like bullying and harassment, so that’s when it’s best to get an independent third party in,” says Kate.

“Also bullying and harassment are obviously quite sensitive and emotional, so ideally employers want someone to have a background where they can also take that into consideration and have a strong understanding of employment law.”

Auckland employers are increasingly seeing the benefits of hiring a PI, she says, particularly with the possibility of former staff lodging a personal grievance after resignation or dismissal, and it gives peace of mind when organisations want to ensure that they’ve taken appropriate steps around misconduct. It also removes accusations of internal bias, with a third party presenting their findings in a report that the employer can evaluate before making any decisions.

If you’re an employer who needs help with a workplace investigation, contact one of our licensed private investigators: Kerry, Kate, Chris, Bhavika, Mattie or Andrew – or contact one of our Human Resources teams in Auckland, Taranaki or Hawke’s Bay for broader HR assistance.     

DISCLAIMER No liability is assumed by Baker Tilly Staples Rodway for any losses suffered by any person relying directly or indirectly upon any article within this website. It is recommended that you consult your advisor before acting on this information.

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