Workplace Investigations FAQs - Part Three

Here is Part 3 of our series on “FAQs about workplace investigations”.

In Part 1I described investigation basics, such as the importance of running a fair and confidential process. In Part 2, I discussed some of the logistical and operational factors to consider to ensure that a workplace investigation does not stymie productivity.

In Part 3, it’s time to call out the elephant in the room: cost.

Q: External investigations can get expensive. How can Employers keep the cost down?

A: Independent investigators have an obligation to reasonably pursue all leads that directly relate to the subject of their investigation.

Good planning and communication with your external investigator is essential. Understand what you’re committing to before the investigation begins.

Investigations are a process. The steps necessary to complete a thorough and fair investigation are not always obvious at the outset. As the investigation unfolds, new allegations may surface and unanticipated witnesses may be identified.

Trying to limit who the investigator interviews or which documents s/he should review may compromise the integrity and independence of the investigation.

Instead, try these tips for keeping costs down:

Tightly define the scope of the investigator’s mandate

When you retain an external investigator, clearly communicate what you need. Upon retention, you should provide the external investigator with a mandate in writing.

Consider whether you need the investigator to:

  • figure out what happened (i.e. – make findings of fact);
  • assess whether what happened was a violation of law or policy; and
  • provide recommendations in light of those findings.

You should also consider whether the investigation should be limited temporally or to specific events. Some complaints are straightforward because the allegations refer to discrete incidents, but other complaints are more nebulous.

Where complaints are of a general nature, occur over an extended time period or describe a pattern of conduct, it may be necessary to establish clear boundaries around which allegations are to be considered by the investigator.

Request a budget & timeline

Investigations can be broken into phases:

  • Initial review & assessment;
  • Complainant interview(s);
  • Respondent interview(s);
  • Witness interviews;
  • Follow-up interviews with Complainant(s) & Respondent(s); and
  • Analysis of evidence & preparation of Report

Upon retention, an external investigator can estimate the cost and time required for each of these phases given the specific circumstances of the proposed investigation.

You can request periodic updates of the budget and timeline as the investigation unfolds to gauge whether the investigation is on track.

Consider allowing the investigator to audio-record the interviews

The goals of the interview process are to accurately preserve the information gathered in the most cost-efficient way possible, while ensuring procedural fairness.

Signed written statements are an accepted method of preserving information in a procedurally fair manner. However, my experience with preparing signed written statements is that they nearly double the amount of time that I require with a witness, which drives up the cost.

So long as the witness consents, I always opt to audio-record interviews. This has the added benefit that instead of hyper-focusing on taking perfect notes, I am free to engage with the witness, build rapport and assess credibility.

And if the matter goes to trial or arbitration, then there is an accurate record of the witness’ evidence, which safeguards procedural fairness.

Still have questions? Give me a call – I’m always happy to discuss.

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