5 Keys to Effective Internal Investigations

5 Keys to Effective Internal Investigations

An effective internal investigation requires careful preparation and deliberate execution.

In 2015, a former employee of Aramark Corporation filed a lawsuit against the company for failing to adequately investigate allegations of harassment. According to the memorandum opinion and order, the investigator took no notes during the interview and failed to look at photographic evidence.

Conducting ineffective internal investigations can lead to more than just a lawsuit. Fees, fines and the costs associated with an unhealthy work environment are all potential consequences as well.

To avoid these risks, it's best to consistently evaluate your internal investigation process and confirm you're on the right path. This article highlights five strategies for more effective internal investigations that you can implement today for a safer, more compliant workplace.

For a more detailed guide on effective investigations, read our eBook: Conducting Effective Workplace Investigations.

1. Create an Investigation Plan and Follow It

When serious allegations are made, companies often respond by rushing into an investigation. This desire to react quickly means the investigator is more likely to skip steps, miss key details and cause additional harm. Consider using an outside investigator if the allegations involve high-level management or sensitive issues.

Carefully develop a plan before you’ll need to use it. Outline steps in the investigation process that you might be likely to miss, such as setting the scope, developing the timeline, identifying goals, questioning the need for outside counsel, putting together a team and more.

Clear policies help investigators avoid common mistakes. A detailed procedure helps them do their job right during what is often a stressful and hurried time.

If you need help creating an investigation plan, here is a free template to get you started: Investigation Plan Template

2. Conduct the Best Possible Interviews

Witnesses hold a lot of power during investigations. A valuable witness has the facts you need, they can answer your questions, offer insight and fill in the blanks. But they may not always truthfully relay facts, so be prepared to question the information you receive.

An effective internal interview requires meticulous preparation. Before beginning, you should have already collected and reviewed relevant documents. You should have prepared opening and closing remarks, and a rough draft of the questions you hope to have answered.

An effective interview also requires strategic execution. Avoid intimidation tactics. Consider the need for written statements or other special investigative techniques, such as polygraphs and videotaping the interview.

3. Learn the Legalities and Comply

Small scale internal investigations are always held to the same standard as large scale external ones. An effective internal investigation, no matter its size or gravity, will comply with the same laws or else run the risk of fines, penalties and lawsuits.

International businesses, in particular, face a bigger responsibility to ensure their investigations comply with local laws. Some countries tightly restrict the collection and use of employee data. Others are more lenient. Employee protections vary too, as well as laws regarding retaliation and confidentiality.

No matter which state or country you’re in, document everything related to the investigation. Strong documentation is necessary should you need to prove compliance or defend yourself from a lawsuit.

4. If Necessary, Consult with Others

Effective internal investigations usually require the help of managers, HR, the company’s legal representative, IT or even law enforcement. Depending on the allegations, each party may have valuable insight or a role to play in the execution of the investigation.

For example, the legal representative can help with the section above, Learn the Legalities and Comply. HR can go back through their incident forms to see if the accused has previous marks on their record worth noting.

However, it’s important to maintain confidentiality during an investigation, meaning only consult with as many people as necessary. Using case management software with role-based access is a great way to strike this balance. Software promotes collaboration among team members while ensuring that private information stays private.

5. Use Investigative Tools and Software

The final key to an effective internal investigation, and one that’s often overlooked, is to use the right technology. There are tons of tools available that can help with every aspect of the investigation process.

Digital forensic tools make it easy to identify, collect and preserve computer data. Survey tools report on exceptions to preconfigured thresholds. Data loss prevention software records data leaks. Auditing programs flag suspicious activity.

Reporting hotlines make it easy for employees to file complaints or suspicions in a secure and confidential way. Case management software organizes your notes, files, data and evidence in a single case file for easy retrieval and reporting.

The right tools automate much of the investigation process. That means you’ll have more time to proactively prevent incidents instead of reactively investigate them.