When conducting an internal investigation, it’s imperative that the investigation be comprehensive and impartial from the beginning. Depending on the size and resources of the company, this is not always possible. Corporate investigations, while necessary, can often be a monumental burden to a small business or organization. Many medium to small businesses/organizations do not have the budget to conduct a comprehensive, detailed investigation on an internal issue. This leaves them to their own devices in the pursuit of solving the problem. When there is no team in place to solve internal problems, workplace investigations tend to fall on the shoulders of Human Resources personnel. This means that in addition to their regularly scheduled duties, the HR representative must also embark on a deep dive into the internal complaint, covering all their bases with regards to the investigation. If even a small detail is overlooked in internal investigations, it can leave the corporation or organization open to wrongful termination lawsuits or other types of litigation.
Human resource employees are the salt of the earth within any business or organization. In many circumstances, they are the grease that propels the wheels of progress in internal processes. This means they constantly have multiple projects in-progress and always have a minimal level of supervision for the entire workforce. Factoring in the capacity for human error, mistakes are inevitable in an internal investigation. That’s why it’s imperative for human resource employees to have a comprehensive step-by-step plan when initiating internal investigations. While every investigation will be different and may require a different approach, many of the investigative beats follow the same pattern as outlined by the Society for Human Resource Management:
- Conduct a comprehensive intake interview with the complaining or initial witness, requesting the scaffold information for the investigation, including the who, what, when, where, how, and why. It’s important that the employee understand the need for discretion during an open investigation into the complaint. This reminder for discretion must come with the caveat denoting any confidentiality rules that would infringe upon an employee’s rights to discuss their status of employment.
- Once the intake interview is conducted, the complaining witness and other eyewitnesses must put their statements in writing to document this stage in the investigation.
- Diffuse any flaring tensions within the case. The more elevated the emotions, the more attention that factor of the investigation requires. Even during an investigation into an open complaint, it’s important that employees feel safe in their work environment. The workplace must be stabilized and disciplinary action must be reserved until the investigator has the entire picture.
- Decide if the subject of the investigation—the individual who is named in the complaint—needs to be placed on administrative leave or allow voluntary leave during the investigation. It’s important that at all steps of this process that any established no-retaliation policies be reinforced.
- Identify what other resources are needed to conduct this investigation. Regularly consult with in-house counsel regarding the legality of the steps you are taking.
- Based on the statements collected at intake, identify the parties that still need to be interviewed and what questions will be asked in that interview.
- Interview the accused with the intent to find the truth. Transparency is important at every stage of this investigation, so provide detailed allegations from the complaining employee’s statements, and allow the accused to provide comprehensive answers to the questions asked. Ask for witnesses to their version of events. At the conclusion of that interview, always ask if there’s anything else that the accused would like to add.
- Re-interview subjects in the case as necessary pending any new information or evidence.
- Keep meticulous notes at all stages of the investigation. Due to the possibility of litigation following the conclusion of the investigation, it is imperative that transparency be maintained throughout. Avoid editorializing in your notes and record only what you are told. Keep secondary performance issues separate from the investigation.
- Create a summary of your report based on all of the evidence you’ve gathered and the witnesses you’ve spoken to. Resolve all factual disputes first, moving on next to the emotional factors in the case. Again, be sure to consult in-house counsel at all stages of the investigation. Determine the best course of action at the conclusion of the investigation. Meticulously document all disciplinary action following the conclusion. Remain alert for forms of retaliation on behalf of all parties involved in the investigation.
If your business is ill-equipped to conduct an internal investigation, consider hiring a private investigator to find answers. Private investigators can have more flexibility than many other types of investigators, due to having an average case load of 3-4 cases at one time. Private investigators can also mitigate some of the costs of internal investigations by conducting a comprehensive investigation with minimal impact to the daily operations of a business or organization. Call Lauth Investigations International today for a free quote on our corporate investigation services. Or, if you’re seeking a long-term solution in improving your workplace culture, call for a free quote on our corporate culture audit program to improve your business from within. Call 317-951-1100 or find us online at www.lauthinvestigations.com