Q: When and why should an organization conduct an internal investigation, and when should it consider having an external investigation performed?
A: To determine if an investigation is necessary or if a situation can be resolved informally, employers should look at the nature of the employment issue. Is this a situation that has a fairly simple answer, or is it a more complex problem? Does it involve just this employee or others? Is this a single incident or complaint, or have there been others? Is it an issue of minor, moderate, or major significance? Do you need more facts than the employee is able to provide? Do you need the assistance of someone who is specialized to reach a conclusion, such as legal advice, security, financial, etc.? If you need to speak with others, review documents, need expertise assistance, or if the allegation is serious, such as sexual harassment, criminal misconduct, etc., conduct an internal investigation.
In determining who should conduct your investigation, employers should examine the employment issue, including the severity of the allegations and available resources. Investigations can be outsourced or they can be conducted by someone within the organization. Always keep in mind that the purpose of an investigation is to gather facts so that the organization can make a credible determination as to what happened in a given situation. The person conducting the investigation should be impartial and objective. Even the appearance or perception of partiality can damage the investigation and usefulness of an investigation. As well, the investigator needs to have the necessary skills and training to conduct the interview. This person needs to be able to gather information from sometimes reluctant sources, to determine the individuals to interview, what to tell them regarding confidentiality and need-to-know, determine the real issue and separate it from ancillary issues that arise, and be able to evaluate the information gathered and provide recommendations. In choosing your investigator, also look at the potential for this issue going to litigation. The stronger the charge, the greater the likelihood it will be litigated, and the more reason to look at outsourcing the investigation.
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