What is an internal investigation?
It is similar to a an investigation that one might see on a television drama series, such as Law & Order. The cops who are Internal Affairs (“IA” in TV Cop speak…) get a case, they begin to work the case by gathering evidence–and then go jump into their cars to go work the case and catch the bad guys. However, an internal investigation involving HR professionals is 180 degrees from an episode of Law & Order…
In my new book, How to Conduct Internal Investigations: A Practical Guide for HR Professionals, I provide a “go-to” guide in which HR professionals can learn a solid process for conducting proper investigations. I wanted to develop a book that was very practical and filled with tools, tips, and techniques vs. it being a boring text book or a thick “legal” type of book in which one would need to be a Philadelphia attorney. The book is designed to provide a step-by-step approach to developing an investigative strategy, how to gather evidence, how to interview witnesses using the Ivey Bulls Eye technique, and how to properly document witness statements and write an investigative report. To order, just go to this link to Amazon.com:http://www.amazon.com/How-Conduct-Internal-Investigations-Professionals/dp/1483935248/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389837513&sr=8-1&keywords=natalie+ivey
For even the most seasoned HR professionals, the notion of launching an investigation can cause one to immediately get a migraine headache. They are time-consuming, laborious, and investigations require a great deal of patience to sit and listen to employees who tend to “wander” in their dialogue when telling their side of a story. Nevertheless, it is HR’s responsibility to gather the facts. As Joe Friday used to say in the old 1960’s TV series Dragnet, “Just the facts, Ma’am.” HR has to gather the facts in order to determine if the allegations that were raised can be substantiated.
As an example, if an employee walks into HR to lodge a complaint of sexual harassment–HR MUST take the complaint seriously, document the heck out of it, and then begin an investigation. If an organization fails to take appropriate action, the legal ramifications can be a royal pain in the you-know-what. The statistics at the EEOC tell the story… there are far more charges of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation within the past five years. And, that means HR is conducting a whole lot more investigations. The problem is that far too many HR managers are conducting investigations with the “fly-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants” approach. And, this approach is fraught with legal landmines. Did you know that HR managers can be sued–individually? Yep. Line managers, too. In an article from SHRM called “Don’t Take it Personally”, it illustrates that many laws such as the FMLA, FLSA, and common law such as negligence and defamation put managers in a precarious position. Why?
Well, under these laws an individual who is making decisions that affects employees’ lives is acting AS the employer. As an example, if an HR Manager denies a FMLA requested leave when an employee was legally entitled to leave or wrongfully classifies an employee’s status under the FLSA, these decisions can put an HR manager at risk of being sued individually. Also, when HR managers make decisions that ultimately lead to an employee getting fired, sometimes those terminated employees can get pretty ticked off after losing their jobs… They decide to not only go after the company that fired them–but the HR Manager who handled an investigation, or made a key managerial decision, that led to their termination. Today, it can cost an HR Manager upwards of $150k just to get a civil case dismissed!
So, what to do? Well, for starters, getting some additional education in how to conduct investigations. Attend my three-day class, pick up my book, and get on your corporate attorney’s calendar to discuss executing an Indemnification Agreement. This is a document that every investigator should have. It’s a document that basically says that if you are acting in the course and scope of your employment as an investigator, the company will back you up with legal representation. In my humble opinion, every investigator needs to have one of these documents.
Until next time…
Natalie Ivey is President and CEO of Results Performance Consulting, Inc., a firm that provides HR consulting and professional development training programs. www.rpchr.com