In today’s post #MeToo era, most companies, big or small, will likely need to conduct an internal investigation on an employee’s claims. Knowing how to conduct a successful internal investigation will help a company protect itself. Not only do internal investigations help avoid litigation, they may also improve employee morale, increase productivity, and oftentimes, end inappropriate conduct in the workplace.
Here are several items to consider when preparing for and conducting effective internal investigations:
- Intake each complaint. Who and what has the employee reported? When and where did the conduct occur? Before beginning interviews, conduct an initial interview to assess the scope of the investigation. In addition, gather background information such as policies, procedures, prior relevant complaints, and the personnel files for each involved party.
- Preserve evidence. If there is evidence of the alleged misconduct in emails, instant messages or videos, take steps to protect and preserve that information in its original form in a timely manner.
- Interview key witnesses. Interview the complainant, witnesses who saw or know something, co-workers, managers/supervisors, and persons with other key knowledge. When interviewing each individual, ask that individual to identify other witnesses or evidence relevant to the investigation. If a witness refuses to participate in an interview, document any unsuccessful attempts to interview him/her.
- Interview separately. After identifying the relevant parties, interview each party alone and in private. Interviewing each individual separately helps bring out more information from each party. As you interview, look for opportunities to find inconsistencies with each party’s story.
- Implement corrective action if needed. Determine corrective action, develop a plan, and be open to conducting additional training as a preventative measure.
- Appear biased. Enter into each investigation with an open mind. Do not act or appear to act out of malice towards the complainant or any other individual.
- Promise confidentiality. You may instead assure involved parties that you will treat all information with the utmost sensitivity and share that information only on a need-to-know basis.
- Spread news. Do not discuss the investigation with persons inside or outside the company that have no need to know about it.
- Forget a closeout report. The closeout report should include a summary of the allegations, the evidence gathered, and the factual conclusions. Take careful notes throughout the investigation so that you can easily recall information to add to the report.
- Forget to follow up. After the investigation concludes, notify the relevant parties, including the complainant, that appropriate action has been taken and advise the witnesses to immediately raise any concerns of retaliation.