“Workplace investigations have become more important for reasons of productivity, personnel management, and litigation avoidance. Moreover, the range of matters that are the subject of investigations has become broader, and there is greater potential liability for mistakes during investigations.” (Ogletree Deakins)
Internal investigations are an important HR tool for sorting out workplace disputes, allegations of wrongdoing, causes of accidents, and a broad range of other workplace matters.
But the best ways to run an investigation can be elusive. These five tips should help:
1. Lay the groundwork before problems arise:
“Any workplace investigation is only as good as the tools you have available to you. Some of the most important tools for an effective investigation are your company’s personnel policies. Many of these policies are quite obvious, and many companies already have them. Unfortunately, the need for other policies only becomes apparent once an investigation is already underway—when it is often too late to adopt them.” (Ogletree Deakins, Part One)
2. Bring the lawyers in early:
“You probably want the process overseen by a lawyer, whether internal or external. ‘If there’s a premium on independence, consider a firm with which you have no prior relationship.’” (MoFo Tech)
3. Draw up a roadmap (and follow it):
“Create a plan that includes a list of the people you are going to interview, the material facts and questions you need to cover at the interviews, location and timing for the interviews, and whether anyone else should be in attendance at any of the interviews. You may want to hold interviews away from the workplace or before/after the workday in order to ensure privacy and confidentiality. Depending upon the circumstances, the investigator should question the complainant, the accused, the supervisor(s) for the complainant and the accused, and most, if not all, other witnesses identified as having knowledge regarding the issue at hand.” (Ogletree Deakins, Part Two)
4. Stick to the facts at hand:
“Each investigation must be tailored to the particular facts. The complainant, the alleged harasser, and third parties should be interviewed. Other than the questions of who, what, where, when, and how did the harassment occur, the person should be asked what was the response to the described actions, are there any others to collaborate, and are there any notes, documents, or physical evidence regarding the incident. Most advisedly, the investigator should refrain from offering his or her opinion.” (Sands Anderson)
5. Start small, and expand the investigation as needed:
“With regard to the scope of an investigation, issues raised about a specific transaction or relationship may have broader implications – if the issues turn out to be genuine and serious, and if the conduct is persistent and widespread. This does not mean an investigation must be wide-ranging and intrusive at the start… Usually an internal investigation should be targeted and not become a company-wide inquiry at the outset.” (Morvillo Abramowitz)
Also see: Michael Volkov’s four-part series on internal investigations:
- Internal Investigation Procedures
- “Routine” Internal Investigations: Initial Phase
- Internal Investigations And Interviews
- Internal Investigations: Making A Decision
- Be A Super Sleuth: Laying the Framework for Effective Workplace Investigations – Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
- Internal Investigations: Best Practices – MoFo Tech
- Be a Super Sleuth—Part Two: Preparing for and Conducting Effective Workplace Investigations – Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
- Conducting Workplace Investigations – Sands Anderson PC
- Internal Investigations: When Less Can Be More, or at Least Better – Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohrer, P.C.
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