Hallmarks of an Effective Internal Investigation


By Monica M. Griffith


Hopefully, your organization won’t have to deal with employee sabotage. But you should know how to handle it if it happens, and how to investigate the problem. The following are characteristics that are essential to an internal investigation.

1. Preparation: Clarify the nature of the investigation (e.g., theft, harassment, sabotage), the company’s  

policies that apply, who is to be interviewed and in what order and what questions are to be asked.                         Research how similar incidents have been handled in the past and what hind of interim action, such as suspension, might be necessary.

2. Expertise: The person who’s handling the case should be experienced and unbiased, and have the ability

    to draw out reticent witnesses to gather the necessary facts.                                   

3. Impartiality: Witnesses should be asked whether they’re comfortable with the investigator’s impartiality.     

Assuming a yes response, the investigator should document the response so an employee who is unhappy            with the outcome can’t credibly claim bias.

4. Retaliation: During interviews with affected employees and witnesses, the interviewer should make clear

    that no conclusion has been reached and that there will be no retaliation for participating in the


5. Confidentiality: It should be made clear that a violation of the confidentiality requirement is subject to   

    disciplinary action. Employees should also be assured that the investigator will share information only on

    a need-to-know basis.

6. Fact Gathering: In addition to obtaining a narrative of events, ask for any relevant written documents,

    any records the employee may have kept, the names of additional witnesses, and whether the employee

    has discussed the situation with others.

7. Documentation: Affected individuals/ witnesses should be asked to put their story in writing to avoid

    misunderstandings; a confirming memo should be written to an employee claiming harassment

    memorializing key points to ensure proper understanding of the details by the investigator.

8. Notetaking: Record only facts and void interpretations, feelings, assumptions, and frustrations. Write

    direct quotes, if possible. Remember that notes may be subject to the discovery process in the event of

    future litigation.

9. Conclusions and Recommendations: It should be based on the nature of the violation and on the facts.

    Take into consideration applicable laws, past company practices, and the employee’s history.

10. Appeal Process: For conclusions leading to employee discipline, the employee should have an appeals

      process. n


Monica M. Griffith is the vice president of The Human Equation Inc, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based HR consulting firm.