8 Internal Investigation Tips

It’s important to launch an internal investigation as soon as possible after a complaint is received.

Posted by Joe Gerard in on February 10th, 2010

When an employee makes a complaint, either through the company’s hotline, verbally to his or her manager or through any other avenue, it’s important for the company to start the internal investigation process quickly. If you’re involved in handling internal investigations for your business, there are steps and tools that can improve your effectiveness in managing all parts of an internal investigation.

These eight steps can help you improve the investigation process in your workplace.

1. Follow Workplace Policy

It’s important to follow the company’s policies for handling different types of allegations (harassment, discrimination, privacy, theft, etc). Workplace policies may dictate that different types of complaints require different procedures.

In addition, the company code of conduct is a great place to start gathering information on the behavior that is expected of employees and to determine whether the activity being reported violates workplace policies.

Does your company have good workplace policy documentation? If not, download our free Code of Conduct Template.

Aside from following company policy, it’s important to ensure that all legal obligations are upheld throughout the investigation process.

2. Determine if Further Investigation is Necessary

Not all complaints require a full-blown investigation, but it’s usually wise to take some form of action on a complaint to ensure it doesn’t escalate. There may also be cases in which an employee makes a complaint but ask for nothing to be done.

At the very least, conduct a preliminary investigation, making basic inquiries to ensure that the incident is, in fact, low risk or unsubstantiated. This is a great risk mitigation strategy to ensure that you have a record outlining the basis for closure of the incident without a full investigation.

3. Assign Investigator(s)

Assign an investigator to the case, taking into account that it may sometimes be necessary to assign an outside investigator. The person selected to conduct the investigation should be independent and objective and should not be in a position of direct authority over any of the people involved in the complaint.

Some investigative case management solutions contain a workflow assignment engine that enables investigation managers to create rules that determine how cases are assigned. For example, the software can automatically assign the case to the appropriate investigator based on the location of the allegation, the allegation type, risk exposure, or any other variable.

4. Create a Plan of Action

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, you can create your own investigation plan.

Need help planning your investigation? Download your free Investigation Plan Template.

Begin by answering the following questions:

  • What is the allegation?
  • Is there a company policy related to the alleged behavior?
  • Who is the complainant?
  • What is his or her job role?
  • Who is the subject of the complaint?
  • What is his or her job role?
  • Should supervisors and managers be informed of the allegation?
  • Is there any documentation related to the allegation?
  • Are there any witnesses to the alleged behavior?
  • Who should be interviewed?
  • Where should interviews be conducted?
  • Should the parties to the complaint be separated during the investigation?
  • Does any immediate action need to be taken to ensure the safety of anyone related to the complaint?
  • Is a litigation hold required?
  • Does the IT Department need to be involved?

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, 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. It’s important to document all of their responses by either recording interviews or taking notes.

Some investigative case management solutions allow investigators to attach any kind of electronic file to an investigation case record. Each “exhibit” attached to the file will be automatically assigned an exhibit number and can be categorized (i.e. witness statement, documents, etc.) with a description.

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.

If you’re using i-Sight case management software to manage your investigation, the final report can be generated with one click.  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.  Investigators simply 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.

If you’re not using case management software, download our free Investigation Report Template to create your final investigation report. 

7. Take Action

Corrective action, if taken, should be tailored to the situation. Appropriate action could include:

  • employee training
  • disciplinary action
  • creating new policies
  • 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.


Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

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