Can improper investigation interviews lead to workplace violence?

Handle difficult conversations well because it’s “the right thing to do”

Posted by Joseph Agins in on July 16th, 2013

Unfortunately, it would seem there are more and more workplace shootings these days and while many of these result from domestic issues, many are also because of issues in the workplace. Whenever I hear about one of these I wonder if there were things leading up to the event that, if handled differently, might have changed the outcome, or at least lessened the possibility of a violent act occurring.

For investigators, having tough conversations with employees is very much a part of the job. However, there is a right and wrong way to approach a tough conversation. Of course there can be legal implications for not doing things correctly but that isn’t what I am talking about here. It is also important to conduct interviews correctly so as to be sure we are not making things worse and even potentially deadly.

Employees doing bad/stupid things in the workplace is something we will always have to deal with.  However, we must also realize that some employees who act in such ways may also be dealing with deeper issues of which we are unaware.

Handling Difficult Conversations

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There is a right and a wrong way to deal with employees being investigated (and/or ultimately terminated) and if they are not dealt with properly and professionally a simple termination for misconduct could end up turning violent.

It is important to find the truth when there is employee misconduct, and these conversations will not, and should not always, be easy. However, the last thing you want to do in an interview is to make the employee angry and make the situation any worse than it already is for them. Treating these situations with care is not only the right thing to do for the employee but also the right thing to do for yourself and your organization.

Best Practices

I think most reading this would already understand this but I still see and hear of examples of employees being needlessly antagonized. So, l feel a reminder of what I feel to be best practices is always a good thing and I submit the following “do’s and don’ts” in this spirit.


  • Antagonize
  • Humiliate
  • Criticize
  • Condemn

Don’t be:

  • Judgmental
  • Moralistic
  • Condemnatory
  • Lecturing

Always Be:

  • Fair
  • Respectful
  • Honest
  • Professional

As much as you can try to:

  • Empathize
  • Offer hope for the future
  • Give positives along with the negatives
  • Not be overly perfunctory

Do the Right Thing

In other words – don’t kick someone when they’re down. You can still go after the truth and be firm and tough whilst also showing empathy. Why make an enemy out of this person if you can avoid doing so?

Sure, they are not going to be entirely happy with you and/or the organization if they are terminated.  However, if they were treated fairly and respectfully during the process, the chance of a violent act focused at you or your organization is greatly diminished. Not to mention that treating them in this way is simply “the right thing to do.”

Joseph Agins
Joseph Agins

CFE, Director of Ethics & Compliance Investigations at Apollo Group

Joseph Agins is the Director of Ethics & Compliance Investigations for Apollo Group, Inc., one of the world's largest private education providers.
As the Director of Ethics & Compliance Investigations for Apollo, Joseph manages the Ethics Helpline as well as oversees the design, execution and completion of all high risk/high profile ethics and compliance related investigations that arise throughout the corporation and its subsidiaries or that are referred by external stakeholders.

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