The 5 Dealdy Sins of an Internal Investigation

Investigation Mistakes

When conducting an internal investigation, the quality of the investigation matters- A LOT.

When conducting an internal investigation, the quality of the investigation matters- A LOT. Investigations require hard work and you can’t afford to leave something out. Here are 5 common investigation mistakes and how to avoid them:

1. Negligence

Whether you fail to investigate an incident as soon as it’s reported or you fail to complete investigation tasks on time, you’re being negligent. What are the consequences of negligence you may ask? For starters, negligence can lead to additional lawsuits, increased fines and a negative blow to your personal and professional reputation.  In some locations, such as Ontario, Canada, employees can sue private investigators that were hired by the company to investigate the case if they feel the investigator was negligent during the investigation. To avoid any of those situations, investigate promptly and complete investigation tasks by their due dates to make sure the investigation is wrapped up on time.

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2. Untrained Investigators

Choose an investigator that is an expert in the type of case under investigation. For example, someone with a background in HR investigations probably isn’t the best choice for investigating an accounting fraud allegation. Workplace investigations cover a wide range of topics, so make sure your investigative team reflects that. If you don’t have someone on your team who is an expert in a particular area, consider using a third party investigator to carry out the investigation to make sure it’s done properly.

3. Failure to Lockdown Evidence

Gathering evidence needs to be on the top of the priority list when starting an investigation. The longer you wait, the more time there is for evidence to be “lost” or destroyed. The article “Sexual Harassment Investigation: Preserve the Evidence,” on the Workplace Investigations blog recommends:

“Consider adding a “preservation of evidence” policy to existing policies about workplace investigations.  For instance, some employers have a written policy in their employee handbook that requires all employees to cooperate in internal investigations of the employer.  The additional policy might state that employees are prohibited from destroying any documentation that could in any way be relevant to a workplace investigation should they be put on notice of an investigation.”

Block access to evidence immediately:

  • Seize videos from security cameras.
  • Immediately place temporary restrictions on access to computer systems- internally and externally, to gather files and e-mails.
  • Seize related paper files, written documents and other materials that risk being shredded or thrown in the trash.

4. Only Taking Action After an Investigation

You’ll want to take action after an investigation wraps because anyone found guilty of violating company policies must face the music. However, there are some investigations that might require action to be taken as the investigation unfolds. For example:

  • If someone is accused of stealing money or fudging the numbers in accounting, it’s best to temporarily remove them from those tasks or divide up the tasks up so that there are others who can make sure everything is accounted for.
  • If an employee complains about harassment, separate them from the “harasser” until the investigation is completed. You don’t need to make drastic changes, but reducing the amount of time they have to spend with each other in the workplace is a wise idea.

You have to be very careful when proceeding this way, as significant changes could be considered retaliatory or make the investigation obvious (ruining confidentiality).

5. Ineffective Investigation Process

Some organizations fail to implement an investigation protocol, or there are internal barriers slowing down the investigation process. Outdated investigation processes, Excel spreadsheets and other manual tracking solutions can tie investigators down. This means that investigators are spending more time inputting information and preparing reports when they could be in the field actively pursuing investigations and ploughing through their case load. Make sure your investigation process works with you. Case management software enables one-click reporting and offers a centralized location for evidence and case information. Automatic alerts make it easier to complete tasks on time, resulting in a timely investigation.

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    Article Published November 16, 2010

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