Should You Involve Law Enforcement in a Workplace Investigation?

Should You Involve Law Enforcement in a Workplace Investigation?

Involving law enforcement in a workplace investigation is a lot like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.

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When you need knee surgery, you choose an orthopedic surgeon. As competent and experienced as the best heart surgeon may be, common sense says that the orthopedic surgeon has the knowledge and experience for your case. And when you want a workplace investigation done right, you choose an investigator with the knowledge and experience to deal with the case.

But when an incident occurs in the workplace, many companies turn immediately to law enforcement, without considering who has the necessary experience dealing with the type of case under investigation.

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To Involve Law Enforcement or Not?

James Whitaker, President, The Whitaker Group, LLC and Ed Casey, CPP, Senior Director - Protective Services, Cincinnati Children's Hospital explain some of the advantages and disadvantages of getting law enforcement involved in workplace investigations.

Advantages include:

  • The decision complies with company policy or law
  • Law enforcement can provide additional resources
  • Broader jurisdiction
  • No additional cost
  • Experience (this can be both an advantage and a disadvantage)

Disadvantages include:

  • Loss of control over the investigation
  • Possible unwanted publicity
  • Timing
  • Business disruption
  • Experience

Once you get law enforcement involved in an investigation, you can’t go back. In some cases, you can use the fact that you aren’t getting law enforcement involved as a source of leverage in an investigation. The employee admits to wrongdoing, you part ways, end of issue.

Experience Matters

Whitaker and Casey discuss the importance of experience and the fact that the law enforcement agent assigned to your case may or may not have experience dealing with the type of incident under investigation. Involving law enforcement in an investigation is like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Companies are liable for ensuring that investigations are conducted properly, which makes the investigator selection process very important. When selecting the best investigator for the case, whether it’s an internal or external source, you need to take their level of knowledge and experience into consideration.

It’s also important to remember that the same person or group may not be the best investigator for every case. Each case varies in complexity, so you need to make sure that the investigator has the skills to get the job done.

When to Get Law Enforcement Involved

Whitaker and Casey suggest involving law enforcement if company policy or the law says so, or if a serious criminal act has occurred. If the investigation involves armed robbery, assault, arson, significant theft or any other type of serious crime, notify law enforcement.

In some organizations, it’s company policy to notify law enforcement when an incident is under investigation. Whitaker and Casey recommend familiarizing yourself with local and state requirements and contacting your legal department to find out what steps you should take before getting law enforcement involved.

RELATED: When to Report Employee Misconduct to Police