Studying a school disciplinary investigation to get the right result
Published 31 May 2023
For anyone with responsibility for their employer’s finances to be wrongly suspected of dishonesty is perhaps one of the worst allegations they can face.
Valerie, a school business manager, was devastated after being informed she was being investigated for the misuse of school budget and resources.
The allegations came to light when Valerie was on long-term sick leave and the person filling in for her raised a concern.
It led to an initial investigation being carried out. The concern was escalated when someone spoken to as part of that investigation made an allegation against Valerie.
When Valerie returned after three months sick leave, she was immediately suspended from work.
The headteacher informed Valerie it was necessary to allow an investigation to take place.
Shocked Valerie, who had worked at the school for four years, denied any wrongdoing and insisted it must be a misunderstanding.
The head assured Valerie she would be spoken to as part of a disciplinary investigation.
She was adamant the allegations were malicious. Valerie was convinced they were made by a male former employee who worked alongside her and left the school under a cloud.
The employee resigned after the grievance was submitted and before it was heard and investigated.
The school head would not confirm where the allegation had come from. He repeatedly insisted the investigation would get to the bottom of the matter.
Valerie was later invited to attend a fact-finding meeting, also known as an investigation meeting.
Unlike a formal disciplinary meeting an employee does not have a right to be accompanied at a fact-finding meeting.
However, the school disciplinary policy did allow staff to be accompanied at the meeting.
Any employee invited to a disciplinary investigation meeting should always check their employer’s policy to see if it allows them to bring a companion to the meeting.
Even if it does not, you can still ask if you can be accompanied because it is good practice for an employer to allow it.
Worried Valerie contacted our Employee Support Centre for help with her case.
Evidence to support any allegation is usually not provided prior to an fact-finding meeting.
In Valerie’s case she simply had a letter that said the meeting was to discuss allegations of misuse of school budget and resources.
Our representative wrote to the school on Valerie’s behalf to request more information and details in order so that she could prepare for the meeting, and to ensure she could cooperate with the investigation.
The school would only confirm the allegations related to a contract awarded to an unnamed company, which had worked at the school the previous year.
The school HR advisor insisted it was not required to provide any further information, as the allegations would be fully explained at the meeting.
Following an exchange of email correspondence, our persistent representative was able to glean some further information about the allegations, including the name of the company in question.
It was enough to enable him and Valerie to prepare a comprehensive response to the allegations.
Valerie explained to our representative what had happened with the contract and some issues with it.
Our representative was able to advise Valerie on the type of evidence they needed to gather to show she had not done anything wrong.
Prior to the meeting our representative requested Valerie be allowed access to her school email account, as it would allow her to gather evidence to support her case. Supervised access was granted.
At the investigation meeting email correspondence and documents were provided to show Valerie’s work in regards to the contract was open and transparent and that she had done nothing wrong.
The investigating manager was provided with the names of witnesses who could also be spoken to and that could support Valerie’s case.
Our representative urged the school to diligently verify the facts, seek clarification and cross-reference the information provided by Valerie.
Valerie was asked many questions during the course of the meeting before it was adjourned.
She was delighted and relieved when a couple of