Read our State of Employment Law Research Report to get compliance tips from your HR peers.


Using Trickery and Deceit in Workplace Investigations

Using Trickery and Deceit in Workplace Investigations

A clever investigator sets the stage for cooperation before the first interview begins.

There are easy ways to get people to talk in a workplace investigation, but torture and drugs are illegal so most investigators have to resort to the legitimate skills of their trade. But even the investigator’s legitimate skill set contains elements of trickery and deceit, and these come into play long before the investigation interviews and confrontations are under way.

The clever investigator can set the stage for cooperation of witnesses and suspects before he or she even begins the first interview. The first step is to take people by surprise.

“I usually just say: ‘Do you have a moment,' and that’s it… I don’t want them prepared," says Greg Caldwell, an expert investigator and president of White Hat Solutions Corporate Investigations and Security Consulting.

Don’t Show Your Hand

Caldwell feels the biggest mistake investigators make is giving away too much information. “You don’t even necessarily want to get into what the interrogation is about, or what the loss is,” he says. “A better way to say it is that you’re just doing interviews to get information and background before you start investigating. So everybody, especially the guilty party, will say they’re happy to cooperate.”

Keeping the interview casual and unscheduled is an easy way to get people to talk candidly as they don’t have time to think about the consequences or invent a story. And the guilty party is lulled into thinking they are fooling the investigator by looking cooperative.

“There are two traits that I’ve found - and I think almost everybody in my business and law enforcement would agree - that bad guys possess. One is greed, obviously, and the second is arrogance. They always think they can fool the interrogator, their bosses, their family, wife, husband… That arrogance is just there and it’s usually their downfall.”

Questions for the Interview

“In a fraud or embezzlement case… you want to develop financial need... you want to make sure that they had access to the funds, that they had opportunity. Then it’s just some very simple conversational questions…you take notes as if this is pretty boring to you.”

The interviewer asks about the subject’s marital status, financial situation, debts, monthly expenses, spouses occupation, etc.

“You know what you’re looking for,” says Caldwell. “If it’s a cash embezzlement, for instance, you’re looking for someone who may have been falling behind on their monthly payments, rent, credit cards, car payments, they needed it to pay utility bills, buy presents for Christmas, repair bills for an auto or something.”

Once reasonable suspicion is established, the interviewer may become more focused on extracting a confession.

Getting the Confession

“Most of the time you don’t have the information you need to be confrontational. And to be confrontational just to scare a confession out of somebody will backfire 95 per cent of the time because if you’re doing it to an innocent person, particularly in a corporate environment, you’re going to lose a good employee,” says Caldwell.

But if you’re reasonably sure the person is guilty, an interrogation is the best way to proceed. This is where the investigator pulls the next trick out of the bag.

“I always like to sit with my back to the windows and open all the windows so he’s staring into the glare and can’t really see my face, but I can see his or hers clearly,” says Caldwell.

The subject’s reaction to the interrogation tells the investigator a great deal. “If they’re angry, that may indicate they are innocent. If they’re crying, you want to find out what they’re crying about. Many times that can be the beginning of a confession,” says Caldwell.

“It is a trick to be sympathetic, understanding, even empathetic enough to get them to talk to you, when they have absolutely no legal reason to talk to you,” he says. “It’s an art form, it truly is, and it takes years and years to develop.”