Getting the Workplace Investigation Report Right

Dot your I’s and cross your T’s at the end of an internal investigation to ensure all your hard work doesn’t go straight down the drain.

Posted by Dawn Lomer in on September 27th, 2011

The investigation report documentation is the most important deliverable in a workplace investigation, yet so many fail to wrap up the case properly, putting the results of the entire investigation at risk. It’s a challenge, given the number of documents and exhibits involved in a complicated workplace investigation, to ensure reports are correctly completed, processed and stored, but it’s the last critical step that can make or break the case.

Besides the basic organization and tracking of records related to an investigation, mistakes made when completing the report documents can also hamper the outcome of an investigation.
“First we may not have a process in place of what documents we should be collecting and then how are we going to protect those documents,” says Sheryl Vacca, Senior Vice President and Chief Compliance and Audit Officer at the University of California. “Sometimes we have multiple places where documents sit, so instead of having ‘the record’ we wind up having multiple records, which may or may not contradict each other. And that raises the risk,” she says.

Besides the basic organization and tracking of records related to an investigation, mistakes made when completing the report documents can also hamper the outcome of an investigation.

Just the Facts

“Sometimes, if people aren’t factual in the report itself when they write it, they (include) an opinion that wasn’t asked for, and it’s more of a judgment… then you’re putting everything at risk, because the credibility can go south,” says Vacca.

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She suggests considering, before starting an investigation, the worst-case scenario, in which you have to disclose the investigation report to a regulatory agency. “You want to be sure that your report is consistent and in a manner that concretely identifies the pieces and the necessary document support for that final report, because they’re going to ask for it,” says Vacca.

She stresses the importance of keeping investigators on track by not telling them what they have to document, but by telling them how it should look and how to report findings in a factual, rather than subjective, manner.

Challenge the Checklist

Vacca advises against using a checklist for investigation reports, as they tend to ‘lead’ an investigator in a particular direction. She prefers to simply ensure investigators are aware of the tools they need to consider when writing the investigation report and allow them to use the tools to document their findings.

“The checklist only covers the things you’re thinking of at that particular time,” she says. “There could be an investigation that covers a whole lot more and the report may never cover it because you’ve limited them to a checklist. They’re not thinking beyond where this report is going and what kind of help it is to the organization. It really narrows their thinking,” she says.

A checklist has a place in the training process as an example of what should be covered, says Vacca, but it shouldn’t replace an investigator’s ability to think. “It’s important to tell investigators that the reason you’re an investigator is because you have those critical decision-making skills and critical thinking skills,” she says.

Investigators need to be organized, think for themselves and document their investigations factually and without interference to create investigation reports that are useful to the organization and satisfy regulatory requirements.

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.