8 Internal Investigation Tips

Effective Investigation

As soon as a complaint is made, it’s time to start the internal investigation process. One of the most important parts of an investigation is the report writing process.

As soon as a complaint is made, it’s time to start the internal investigation process. One of the most important parts of an investigation is the report writing process. Using a workplace investigation report template can make this process run much smoother. If you’re involved in handling internal investigations for your business, there are steps and tools that we can provide to make you and your business more effective in managing all parts of an internal investigation.

Focusing on steps to take during investigations, I’ve put together a list of 8 steps to help you make improvements to the investigation process in your workplace.

1. Follow Workplace Policy

It’s important to follow the policies in place for handling different types of allegations (harassment, discrimination, privacy, theft, etc), as handling complaints in each of these areas usually requires different procedures. Make sure that all legal obligations are also upheld throughout the investigation process. Policies are a starting point in all investigations, as it is a conflict with the company policy that normally ignites a complaint.

2. Determine if Further Investigation is Necessary

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In their guide “10 Steps to an Effective Investigation”, attorneys Nick Zaino and Howard Levine claim that not all complaints will require further investigation. It is usually wise to take some form of action on all claims in order to ensure they don’t escalate. The article also notes that sometimes employees make a complaint but ask for nothing to be done.

Most of our clients always conduct a preliminary investigation.  This phase of the workplace investigation process generally makes some very basic inquiries to ensure that the incident is in fact low risk, or unsubstantiated. This is a great risk mitigation strategy to ensure that should the incident escalate in the future you have a solid record outlining the basis for closure of the incident without a full blown investigation.  i-Sight investigation software also uses worklfow to facilitate a review procedure.  Investigators are often asked to provide a recommendation and the basis for this recommendation.  Once this is completed, i-Sight automatically notifies the correct manager who can review the file and approve or reject the recommendation.

3. Assign Investigator(s)

According to the Ontario Human Right Commission, assigning an investigator to the case involves great consideration. The OHRC section addressing Developing Human Rights Policies and Procedures states “An investigation may be conducted by a member of the organization, or by someone external. The person selected to conduct the investigation should be independent and objective. Wherever possible, the investigator should not be in a position of direct authority over any of the people involved in a complaint, but should report to someone with the authority to make decisions and have them enforced.”

Many of our clients use automated assignment workflow.  i-Sight contains a workflow assignment engine that enables investigation managers to create rules that determine how cases are assigned.  For example, one our customers has investigators spread across the globe and their company is organized according to Continent, Region and Country.  As cases are received through various channels, i-Sight automatically notifies and assigns the case to the appropriate investigator based on the location of the allegation.  This process can also be based on other factors such as allegation type, risk exposure, or any other variable.

4. Create a Plan of Action

Each case you investigate will require different steps to be taken because each one involves different people, issues and levels of severity. It is a good idea to outline a plan of action and make a list of questions that need to be answered by the complainant, the subject of the allegation and any witnesses. If you don’t have an enterprise investigative case management solution like i-Sight, you can create templates to be completed when an investigation is assigned.  We often see organizations that have tailored templates – forms tailored for different allegation types.

There are a variety of downsides to this approach though – no ability for collaboration amongst team members, it’s hard to maintain an accurate record throughout the case life cycle, there’s no visibility between investigators and managers and it takes investigators hours of work to prepare the final investigation summary report.

The article “7 Steps to Successful Investigations” provides us with a list of good questions that could be included in your forms and can be answered by both yourself and the complainant. Here is the list:

- What is the allegation?
- What is the company policy regarding these types of allegations?
- Who is the complainant?
- What position does he or she hold?
- Who is the accused?
- What position does he or she hold?
- Who should be interviewed and in what order?
- Where should the interviews take place?
- What possible issues may arise during the interview process?
- Are there any supervisors or managers I need to inform?
- Does anyone need to be suspended to stop unlawful behavior?
- Do I need to freeze computer records?
- Do I need to talk to the IT or security departments?
- What documents do I need to review?

5. Collect Evidence

Gather and record any supporting evidence available to support the investigation. Evidence or exhibits could be in the form of e-mails, video footage, reports, witness interviews etc. It’s beneficial to get a signed statement from the complainant in order to keep a clear audit trail documenting the allegation.  Depending on the allegation type, witness interviews will generally be the most critical part of your investigation.  This  generally includes the subject, the complainant and any other staff members who have either witnessed or have any further information supporting the allegation that could be held as useful evidence.  Once again, it’s important to document all of their responses in writing in order to create stronger evidence.

i-Sight makes it easier to keep track of evidence by enabling team members to attach any kind of electronic file to an investigation case record.  Each “Exhibit” that’s attached to the file will be automatically assigned an exhibit number and can be categorized (i.e. witness statement, documents, etc.) and investigators can provide a description of the file.  Recording exhibits like this makes it easy for investigators to create their final report, because using the i-Sight Report Template functionality all the exhibit descriptions will be extracted and automatically listed in the final report.

6. The Final Report

Create an overview of the investigation by summarizing the evidence collected and the recommended outcome. Include supporting evidence, any applicable laws, regulations or workplace policies that relate to the case, and outline the necessary course of action to be taken.

i-Sight internal investigation software is designed to ensure that the preparation of the final report is as effortless as possible.  Since investigators are using the case file on a daily basis to record their notes, send emails and record exhibits, the preparation of the final report can happen in minutes – not weeks.  Investigators are able to select the desired Final Report template and click a button to extract information from the i-Sight case file, into an MS Word document. The result is a polished and consistent final report based on a comprehensive and auditable electronic case file.

7. Take Action

Referring back to attorneys Nick Zaino and Howard Levine and the article 10 Steps to an Effective Investigation, “any corrective action needed should be tailored to the specific situation. Appropriate action can include: training, disciplinary action, creating new policies, or revising existing policies.” Once you determine the appropriate action, act on it to correct the issue as soon as possible.

8. Follow Up

Conduct separate follow ups regarding the complaint. Follow up with the subject to make sure that they have made the necessary corrective actions and provide them with the tools and training necessary to make changes. With the complainant, follow up questions should be aimed at ensuring there are no signs of retaliation and to make sure that they are aware that the situation has been handled.  Finally, ask them if they have noticed an improvement since their complaint was made.

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Article Published February 10, 2010

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