Guidelines for Conducting an Internal Investigation

Conducting an internal investigation is an important part of any human resource professional’s job. Interviewing witnesses face-to-face is an important part of the process, as it can help an employer assess the demeanor, credibility, motivation, and potential hostility of the witness.To obtain as much information as possible, while minimizing the risk of distortion or bias, human resource professionals should consider some of following guidelines:

Prepare a checklist.

The key for an investigation is information, information, and information again. A proper checklist will ensure that the needed information is obtained during an interview.

Maintain a positive attitude.

Be calm and polite and encourage the witness to be forthcoming.

Stress that the interview is voluntary and reassure the witness that he or she will not be retaliated against for either providing information or refusing to assist in the investigation.In all interviews, keep information confidential and limit its disclosure to people on a need-to-knowbasis.

Conduct the interview in a private place.

Conduct the interview in the office of the witness or in a neutral conference room rather than the office of a supervisor or superior.

Always consider having at least two people other than the interviewee present.

A second person can verify what was said in case the witness later changes his or her version of the facts. If the witness is an employee, the additional person present for the employer should be someone in the need-to-know capacity.

 Listen.

The purpose of the interview is to obtain facts.If the interviewer does all the talking, no new facts will be uncovered.

Ask open-ended questions.

Asking questions that require a narrative response will encourage the witness to expound and thereby provide additional information.

Ask follow-up questions.

Be sure to ask questions such as who, what, when, where, why, and how.These simple questions frequently unearth additional information.

Ask for a written statement.

If a witness is cooperative and friendly, ask the witness to write a statement in his or her own words.This statement commits the witness to the facts relayed to you, and becomes a valuable tool in continuing the investigation.When the statement is complete, give a copy of it to the witness.

Keep the identity of the participants private.

In discussions of the investigation, do not disclose the name of the witness except to those few individuals who have a need to know.Be aware of inflated, vindictive, or false leads.

Transcribe the notes of the interview.

Do this immediately after the interview is concluded.

If you have any questions regarding your company’s internal investigation procedures, contact a member of Barrett McNagny’s Labor and Employment team. 

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