For most Compliance Officers, conducting a full internal investigation is an uncommon occurrence. As such, when a matter arises requiring an investigation, it is important to remember and follow certain guidelines. It is all too easy for those inexperienced in conducting investigations to make a simple procedural error that may seriously compromise the entire process. The following are 18 rules worth remembering:
- Need to Know. The general rule for all internal investigations or inquiries is that there should be no sharing of information regarding the predication, direction, or findings of the process with any unauthorized parties.
- Promptly Debriefing Complainants. All complainants need to be fully debriefed as to the basis of their allegations, concerns, and complaints in order to properly assess and take appropriate follow-up actions.
- Interview Witnesses Promptly. All interviews of witnesses should be conducted promptly before memory fades or is influenced by intervening events.
- Stress Confidentiality. At the outset, make it clear that the interview is confidential and what interviewees say will be shared only to those with a “need to know.” Also make it clear that interviewees should not discuss the interview with anyone.
- Always Remain Fair and Impartial. The process of conducting the investigation must be a fair and impartial review of all relevant facts.
- Remain Professional. A professional demeanor instills confidence in individuals contacted for interviews. An unprofessional demeanor runs the risk of alienating individuals who could provide useful information and dramatically affect results.
- Conduct “Low Key” Interviews. It is very important to remain “low key” in approach and discreet in gathering pertinent facts. Being aggressive seldom produces anything other than resistance.
- Avoid Imparting Information. The purpose of an interview is to obtain information, not to impart it. As such, avoid questions from the person interviewed about the investigation.
- Keep Control of the Interview. It is important that the investigator drive the interview and keep the person being interviewed on track. Those reluctant to give out information often try to move the course of the interview “off track” to avoid being fully responsive.
- Don’t Telegraph Information. In a confined work environment, it is easy to “telegraph” information about the investigation by words or actions. People try to “read” the questioner’s intent, direction, and attitude, and then discuss it with coworkers.
- Include Management Views. It is important to include management’s views as part of the report and not rely solely upon the staff’s representations.
- Avoid Using Original Documents. In conducting reviews and other investigative steps, use copies. The original documents should remain under lock and key.
- Controlling and Tracking Information. All “cases” should be stamped, logged, and numbered as part of records management.
- Maintain Chain of Custody. All evidence obtained during an investigation must be tracked so that it is never outside of the control of the investigation. This is referred to as maintaining “chain of custody.” Failure to maintain this chain of custody may result in the evidence being disallowed in a formal adjudicative process.
- Remain Focused. It is easy to be distracted by secondary issues. Those conducting the investigation must never lose sight of the purpose and objective of the investigation. This means staying focused on factors relating to the complaint and not being distracted by extraneous information.
- Be Flexible. Stay focused, but not inflexible to changing fact patterns, directions, or conditions during the investigation. Under certain circumstances, deviating from the guidelines and investigative plan may be necessary. Remaining too narrowly focused may result in missing even more significant issues than those that predicated the original investigation. In many cases, the investigation may identify related problems to the original complaint or allegation.
- Be Comprehensive. For most investigations, there is one chance for everything to be done right the first time. The investigation must be comprehensive enough to answer all the questions raised in the predication, as well as sufficient to identify any pervasive or systematic problem that may have caused the problem. Having to redo any or all of the investigation is not something anyone likes to see.
- Take Steps to Prevent Retaliation. One of the worst outcomes of an investigation is to have retaliation or retribution against the original complainant or witness. This issue is specifically addressed in the OIG Compliance Guidance. It can also create serious legal liability. As such, take great care to prevent information from flowing away from the investigation until all matters have been resolved.
For more information on the subject, join the 3-Part Webinar Series beginning Thursday, September 1, 2016 at 1:00 – 2:30 PM Eastern Time on:
“Internal Investigations: Managing Risk and Executing with Excellence”
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