Tips on Conducting an Internal Investigation for Human Resource Professionals
Most human resource professionals will need to conduct investigations during their careers as a part of their job duties. Investigations are most often required for allegations which include theft, drug use, discrimination, threats, assaults and harassment.
The potential liability of an employer is many times dependent upon the quality and manner in which the investigation was conducted. This is why it is important that any internal investigation should have the objective of improving the decision making process. This goal can be accomplished only if there is a thorough understanding of the facts. Investigations that are performed properly can mitigate or prevent the potential for morale problems, prevent legal problems, and ultimately prevent financial losses to the company. Poorly run investigations can do just the opposite.
TIP #1: WITNESSES
When conducting an investigation it is important that one or more than one company witness be present, if at all possible, throughout each step of the investigation. Having witnesses can reduce the possibility of mis-documenting information, as well as prevent later denials of comments.
TIP #2: DOCUMENT
Preparing summaries of the information gathered, and requesting the provider of the information to sign the summaries, will also assist in the documentation of the investigation. Interviewers should take thorough, contemporaneous notes during the entire investigation.
TIP #3: CONFIDENTIALITY
Find a location that provides sufficient privacy for an open flow of information. The investigation should remain as confidential as possible.However, be careful not to promise complete confidentiality. It is usually difficult to maintain complete confidentiality when additional witnesses will be interviewed. However, to help offset the inability to maintain strict secrecy, it is advisable to relay to each interviewee the company’s commitment to conducting a fair and impartial investigation.
TIP #4: INTERVIEW
At the beginning of the employee’s interview, state the reason for the interview, and explain the allegations as well as the facts and the documents that support those allegations (without disclosing confidential sources).
During the investigation, interview questions should be asked which tie directly to the issue at hand. Open-ended questions are often best.It is important to document answers and recite back to the interviewee to make sure that your understanding of the qualifications/events are, in fact, accurate. Once you have an accurate understanding, be sure to document the facts; not your opinion of the facts.
Give the employee an opportunity to provide mitigating information – all the reasons or circumstances why the employee feels his or her actions were justified or the facts are incorrect. The key to a fair and complete examination of the facts is the ability to remain open-minded and impartial, and to ask pointed follow-up questions that are based on the facts gathered during the investigation.The due process interview should be non-adversarial, open, and candid.
TIP #5: SUMMARY and FOLLOW-UP
At the conclusion of the interview, write a summary of the interview, including listing questions that were asked and answers that were provided.If the interview with the employee raised issues that require further investigation, follow up on them.
These tips will help create a fair and thorough investigation process and will help mitigate labor issues for a company.
If you have questions regarding conducting an internal investigation please contact a member of the Barrett McNagny Labor and Employment Group.