Over the course of my tenure in corporate security management, I’ve had occasion to be involved with a vast number of investigations of all types and sizes. But regardless of the nature and scope of the event itself, it often seems that the most difficult part of the work is managing the internal relationships. Consequently, I found that being able to wear the hat of both a politician and investigator proved to have significant value on the outcome.
The concept of an investigation in the workplace is often something most managers would choose to avoid; if only for the fact that it is perceived to be a disruptive intrusion which takes the focus off the primary business functions. If handled by an apt and experienced investigator however, both the process and the result can serve to better protect the organization and make it a safer, more comfortable and more productive environment for all.
Sooner or later, every company is faced with the need for an incident investigation. Being prepared in advance can mean the difference between producing actionable results which serve to resolve issues and reduce risks, and marginal results that can upset the workforce or worse, create corporate liability. As an example of liability exposure, all an investigator’s notes may be “discoverable”. This means that if a case winds up in either civil or criminal court, the notes can be obtained by opposing counsel through the subpoena process. This can include the case file, personal notebooks, emails, phone logs, etc. These items, if not 100% professional, can be potentially damaging to the organization.
When contemplating a workplace investigation, there are certain considerations which must be addressed prior to initiating any actions. Here are few of the most important ones:
- What corporate policies exist to address the scope of the investigation and the authority of the investigator(s) to do the work?
- Which individuals are available and qualified to do the investigative work?
- Should the investigation be managed through corporate counsel and a third-party to protect the investigator’s work product under attorney-client privilege?
- Is the purpose of the investigation focused on solving a problem or identifying a responsible party?
- Who is ultimately in charge of the investigation and who needs to be kept informed of progress? This list should be as short as possible.
Sometimes the person in charge of the investigation is not steeped in an investigative background. This requires that the investigator provide both education and insight into their activities so that their efforts aren’t directed to a pre-determined outcome. It’s crucial that the facts lead to a conclusion rather than the other way around. Seasoned investigators map out their activities in advance and creating that map can help demonstrate the need and validity of actions before they are undertaken. Before starting an investigation, you can help protect your organization by ensuring that you’ve addressed the basics. Below are some of the items that should always be top of mind:
- Is the investigation criminal or civil in nature?
- Are the police involved and investigating as well?
- Who’s on the investigative team? Having a team of at least two people is considered a best practice.
- What evidence may be available (video, documents, access logs, etc.) and does the investigative team have the knowledge to apply chain of custody rules and procedures?
- What are the protocols for engaging with witnesses?
- What are the procedures for dealing with a suspect?
Most of the interaction with witnesses and suspects will consist of interviews. This is a whole topic in and of itself and the activities should be planned as a subset of the overall investigation. A good interview strategy should consist of the following:
- Possibility of witness intimidation if the perpetrator has remained in the workforce and/or, is at a senior level
- Order of interviews (suspects, if any, are normally last)
- Location of interviews (at work or away from work)
- Which investigator to conduct the interview (most likely to elicit the best responses)
- Second person to be present for interview (If two can’t be present, best practice is to record the interview.)
- Questions prepared in advance
- Some answers ready beforehand (i.e. “What’s going to happen to me if…”)
- Written statements requested from each person interviewed
Leading or conducting a productive investigation in the workplace can be complicated, time consuming, and even tedious. Successful investigations are not the stuff of Hollywood, but the sum of patience, hard work, attention to detail, and a healthy dose of creativity and communication. The ideal corporate investigator will possess all these traits and will couple proven methodologies with personal artistry to produce the best possible outcome while protecting corporate liability and reputation.
Glenn Sandford is a Director at AT-RISK International. In this role, he develops strategies and practices to cultivate relationships with new and existing customers. Glenn has over 25 years in public and private security and has a wide depth of experience across many security genres. Mr. Sandford has authored first-edition security procedures manuals and pioneered several highly successful risk management and protection programs.