An act of employee dishonesty can often be a dramatic event for an employer. This type of event brings forth emotions of betrayal, violation of trust and disloyalty from an individual once trusted by those within the organization. Too often however, employers may be too quick to remove the suspected dishonest employee and disregard key elements necessary to complete a successful internal investigation. It must always be kept in one’s mind that the end result of an employee investigation may lead to an employment decision; a decision based on certain employee rights and laws, where actions taken wrongly can become costly legal problems.
Here are 5 things not to do when conducting an investigation. We follow up each wrong, with some best practices to do it right.
1. Failure To Investigate Issue Promptly
Allegations into theft, harassment or other employee issues should be taken seriously and investigated immediately. The longer it takes to begin an investigation, the more likely critical evidence will be lost or witness memories will fade. Delays in conducting an investigation may also be perceived as an attempt to stall or an employer’s lack of concern by those who reported the theft or abuse. Failure to investigate can also create an environment of poor morale with other employees. An environment of poor morale may lead to additional incidents.
2. Improper Preparation & Evidence Gathering
Prior to any employee being interviewed, the investigator should properly identify and research potential evidence, and talk to witnesses. Never move so quickly through an investigation that you do not take a good look at the facts. Evidence such as CCTV recordings, time cards, receipts and logs should be identified and properly secured. A plan to identify witnesses and suspects should be realized and care must be placed on when such interviews occur in order to prevent gossip. Detailed notes should be kept by the investigator including a chronology of events which will be critical in preparation of the suspect interview.
3. Telling Too Many People About The Investigation
During most investigations, the investigator has a primary point of contact. This may be a human resources representative, district manager, or general manager. There may also be witnesses involved, who will gain some knowledge of the investigation during the investigative process. Make certain that only those that need to have knowledge have it. An investigation is often based on accusations and suspicions. If knowledge of an investigation reaches the wrong individuals, you may put the full investigation in jeopardy.
4. Failure To Write Everything Down
It is easy for any investigator, who after receiving an admission of theft from their suspect, to be overwhelmed with relief and feel the need to rush and “wrap their case up”. However, if not documented properly their efforts could be in vain. Things that should be written down:
Detailed notes should be taken during interviews with witnesses and suspects.
Document the time interviews begin and end, names of those being interviewed and those witnessing.
Statements obtained from those interviewed should include specific facts. In regards to confessions, those facts should be substantiated.
Post-investigation reports should be completed by the investigator, documenting the investigation, interviews and the investigator’s conclusions.
The documents should be thoroughly edited to eliminate any spelling and grammatical errors. Remember investigative documents may be used in future potential litigation.
5. Relying On Untrained Investigative Personnel
We already discussed the strong perceptions of employers when it comes to employee theft and dishonesty. There is often a strong desire to take immediate action, such as termination or even prosecution.
Every company has individuals that are tasked with the job of investigating and resolving incidents of theft, harassment, or other employee-related concerns. Too often these individuals may not have received the proper training conducting investigations and interviews. Although they may be skilled in communication, understanding the business, or being able to follow an investigative process, lacking professional certification or vital skills can put a company in jeopardy.
There are various certifications to properly train individuals on conducting investigations or interviews. Additionally, there are companies with certified and seasoned professionals who can assist you in resolving these issues.
Hoda Ilyavi, CFI, Director of Field Services