How to Conduct Interviews
- Investigation Guides
- An Employer's Guide to Conducting Internal Investigations
- 47 Quick Tips: Better Investigation Interviews
- Checklist for Sexual Harassment Investigations
- Black Book of Lie Detection
The investigator should begin every interview with a brief introduction that includes the reason for the interview, and appropriate disclosures. Normally, the investigator will have a witness present to take notes and corroborate evidence. This person's role should be described at the outset to put the witness at ease. He or she must be honest about the purpose of the interview without breaching confidentiality. For instance, opening remarks could be that the company is investigating certain complaints about unfair treatment of minorities.
A savvy investigator must maintain an air of confidentiality without making a direct promise. If a lawsuit is filed, the promise of confidentiality will be broken if a court compels disclosure. However, an investigator must stress to the witness that the information provided will only be shared with management or others on a limited need to know basis. Generally, the interviewer doesn't need to tell the interviewee what other witnesses had to say -- except when interviewing the accused. The investigator should never discuss opinions or conclusions with anyone while the investigation is pending.
An investigator should always remain neutral and never appear to take sides. With that said, he or she must remain focused, keep the interview on track and moving forward in order to get as much information as possible. If the witness becomes emotional, take a break. Focus on the prepared interview outline when the interview goes off track. Remember, the investigator must instill trust while controlling the room.
As noted, the complainant is usually the first to be interviewed. In incidents of harassment, discrimination and possible retaliation, the employer has a duty to protect the safety of the complainant. In all workplace complaints, the employer must focus on its legal obligations and assure compliance with corporate policies. To this end, a clear message should be conveyed to the complainant that a thorough investigation will occur and the appropriate action taken. The employer also has a duty to protect the complainant from any form of retaliation.
The accused is likely to be one of the next people interviewed. It is natural for a person who has been accused of misconduct to behave in a defensive manner. The investigator must assure due process to the accused. The investigator should be careful not to convey the impression that they are out to get the accused or have predetermined the accused's guilt. At the same time, the investigator should make it clear that the company takes the complaint seriously and intends to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation. The accused should also be reminded that the company has a legal obligation to investigate. Put concerns about defamation into perspective.
An investigator should assure the accused that the company is conducting its investigation in a manner that will prevent damage to reputations by handling the investigation as confidentially as possibly, and gathering the facts before making any decisions. This is the perfect time to reiterate any corporate rules, zero tolerance mandates, and to advise that if found to have committed the offense at issue, the accused is subject to discipline up to and including immediate termination.
Listen carefully and follow up on all matters that arise -- even unexpected ones. An investigator should avoid being hyper-focused on a list of questions to the extent that it prevents the witnesses from revealing other points that turn out to be relevant. Relevant issues can be explored with the aid of open-ended, non-leading questions. For example, an investigator may ask the accused to describe their working relationship with the complainant or to describe the office environment. An investigator may want to start in a non-confrontational way by asking the accused about background information. After extracting as much information as possible from a witness on a given point through the use of open-ended questions, the investigator should ask more pointed questions while making sure to ask the accused about each specific allegation made by the complainant.
After meeting with the complainant and the accused, the investigator is often faced with a "he said/she said" situation. The truth often lies somewhere in between, and other witnesses are integral sources of information to balance the facts. Interviewing other witnesses is similar to interviewing the complainant and accused. Consider carefully what the purpose of the meeting with each witness is and tailor the meeting for that purpose, limiting the information revealed about the situation to the greatest extent possible. The investigator should make sure to review the preliminary investigation outline that was drafted and pull relevant topics for each key witness. The investigator should encourage the witness to contact him/her after the interview if they think of anything else that might be relevant to the case. Remind the witness of the importance of confidentiality.
Table of Contents
- Introduction to Internal Investigations
- How to Prepare for an Investigation
- How to Conduct Interviews
- How to Develop Investigative Recommendations