There has been an increase in observed misconduct over the past year. There’s a whole variety of reasons for this, but I think part of it can be attributed to an increase in accessible reporting tools, allowing employees to anonymously report any issues and making it easier to provide feedback. Many executives and senior level managers are actually encouraging employees to report misconduct, which also means that your compliance and HR departments will need to tackle a growing numbers of investigations. Investigations need to be conducted carefully, as there are many risks that influence the success of your investigation. Here are some internal investigation techniques that can be implemented in any workplace in order to avoid investigation pitfalls and reduce the risk of unethical behaviour in the workplace:
1. Go Public
Go public with your ethics policy and reporting tools. Train employees to use the reporting tools to make complaints or report misconduct. Also, communicate the importance of the system to employees and reiterate the fact that they can report these actions anonymously. It’s also important to discuss with them that there are policies in place to protect whistleblowers and complainants from retaliation- this aids the investigation process because it puts the complainant at ease and likely leads to better cooperation throughout the investigation. Going public about the reporting tools and ethics policies lets employees know that you- and other employees for that matter, are all paying attention to the actions of those around them. When someone knows that there’s an increased chance of being caught for misconduct, they will likely think twice before following through on their plan.
2. Thorough and Fair Interview Process
In two of our previous posts- Investigation Interview Tips: Questions for Subjects and Witnesses and Complainant Investigation Interview Questions, we outlined the questions and procedures that are part of successful investigation interviews. Investigation interviews are crucial components to the internal investigation process as they are the greatest source of information- allowing you to ask questions, get answers, collect evidence and gain greater insight into the allegations. Ensure that the interviewer doesn’t act in a bias manner, remain impartial. Plan ahead when determining the interview schedule and questions, in order to ensure that you ask everything you need to the first time around. It’s also important to conduct interviews as soon as possible because many of the people you’ll interview have to recall the event based on their memory of the incident- the longer you wait, the more confusing and less detailed the stories could become.
3. Evidence Preservation and Collection
The most important part of this step in the investigation process is removing the subject from any source of evidence until you have gathered everything you need. If the subject has time to demolish evidence related to the incident, the case of the complainant becomes difficult to prove, and the subject could get away with their actions without facing any consequences due to lack of proof. In the Ethisphere post “Tarun’s Ten Commandments for Conducting Internal Investigations,” they state that “if an investigation becomes public or is voluntarily disclosed to the government, one of the first questions from a prosecutor or regulator will be: what did the company do within the first 24 hours to preserve and protect its electronic data and secure hard documents from employees and officers?” We outline some evidence collection tips in our previous post 8 Internal Investigation Tips.
When an employee gains the courage to come forward about an incident or observed misconduct, don’t make them feel like they are “being the bad guy”. Employees are able to catch issues while they are small- encourage them to voice their concern, as their actions could prevent your company from being the headline in tomorrow’s news. Create a reward program for the promotion of ethical behaviour and the reporting of incidents. Make sure to maintain consistency when rewarding employees for their proactive, ethical behaviour. Although incentives may not necessarily be the main contributing factor motivating an employee to bring an issue forward, it’s best to praise ethical acts in order to demonstrate your commitment to compliance and ethics in the workplace.
5. Stick to Your Policies… Always
Make no exceptions. Ethics codes and workplace policies for behaviour and reprimanding actions are more than words on a piece of paper- but you are responsible for making that happen. If employees feel they can avoid punishment for their actions, they will try to get away with whatever they can. A lot of time is invested into developing a code of ethics, training employees and informing them of the consequences of acting against workplace policies. Employees know what the consequences are, and it should also be common knowledge that, no matter what, ”the punishment fits the crime.” You as a manager, and your policies, will be taken in a more serious manner if you adhere to the policy at all times and refuse special treatment of justifying a lesser punishment for an employee.