Have you ever played "Where's Waldo?" You know, those frustrating books where you have to scour a picture full of red and white stripes to find the guy who apparently never changes his shirt? Well, imagine playing that game with a massive amount of data… except this time, you're not looking for a cartoon character, you're trying to uncover the truth in an employment investigation process.
It’s not fun and games like with Waldo. It’s a painstakingly long-drawn process where one mistake can cost you thousands of dollars.
Plus, you don’t want to be in a game of hide-and-seek with the truth.
After all, the ultimate goal of workplace investigations is to either confirm the wrongdoing to quickly amend it or to dispel the suspicion. Therefore, an optimal employment investigation process should be quick, fair, and thorough in accomplishing any of those goals.
A comprehensive and well-designed employment investigation process ensures compliance with laws and regulations, helps protect organizations from potential legal claims, and paves the way for a more positive workplace.
However, workplace investigations can quickly turn from just a formal inquiry of allegations of wrongdoing to your worst nightmare as you sift through truckloads of data.
That's why you need careful planning, a defensible approach to fact-finding, and, increasingly, the use of technology, which can significantly reduce the cost of internal investigations and help bring them to a speedy resolution.
Establishing an Employment Investigations Game Plan
Workplace investigations call for speedy actions. Investigating allegations of fraud or misconduct may bring friction to organizations, risking assets and resources if not handled quickly.
After remote work took over, business practices — like the reliance on cloud-based storage systems — have increased, leading investigators to re-evaluate how they conduct their investigations so they’re both scalable and defensible.
Developing a thorough game plan can not only help you run the employment investigation process smoothly, but also demonstrates your commitment to a rigorous, objective, and fair investigation to regulators, judges, and juries, when necessary. It can also help avoid violations of employee rights during HR investigations. Consider what information you need, who holds that information, and how long you think it will take to obtain and sift through.
As you establish your employment investigations plan, consider who takes the lead. Balancing prior experience and impartiality can be a challenge. While internal HR teams may be best equipped based on their familiarity with internal policies, their daily workload might not allow them to conduct an investigation. Security teams can identify key facts quickly, in-house counsel are familiar with the discovery process, and third-party experts can ensure impartiality.
Repeatable and defensible investigative processes help you predict costs and risks right from the start. This includes having the right technology to save time and costs.
Speed is important not only to shield yourself from liability but to also comply with laws. For example, in a case of alleged sexual harassment, failure to engage in prompt investigation might lead to significant awards against employers by the federal courts.
Therefore, once an internal investigation is triggered, you need to act fast to preserve, collect, and review all data relevant to the investigation.
Gathering information as soon as possible is also important so that it doesn’t get lost or forgotten.
That’s where eDiscovery technology steps in.
You can swiftly and effectively get to the root of internal matters, protecting your company's interests as you gather evidence at a lightning-fast speed.
The Devil is in the Details: Gathering Employment Investigation Data
Before you start to gather data, you need to consider all the data sources.
Key information may not reside just on the company network. For example, harassment may happen through chat messages on a personal device of an employee. Trade secrets could be shared on a personal device or company documents could be stored on a personal laptop.
Data volumes are exploding in eDiscovery, and organizations need to be ready to deal with it without losing their minds (or their data). And they need to do it fast.
Finding relevant data for an investigation is the first step, which can be effectively done by conducting employee interviews and preserving data right from the start. Technology can help you preserve data before any problem arises as well as help you identify relevant data sources. Advanced search capabilities and filters can help you narrow down the scope of data that needs to be reviewed.
Then, data visualization can help present complex data in a clear and concise manner helping investigators identify patterns and trends in the data. In-house counsels and HR teams can catch and organize all important evidence for their investigation. Yes, we are advising you to approach evidence the way you would approach Pokémon.
So, with that approach, here are some employment investigation best practices:
1. Monitor Compliance
Data needs to be managed in a legally defensible and ethical manner. This can be done by creating information governance plans. Organizations need to implement policies and protocols to increase oversight.
These efforts can be supported through enforcement. Conducting regular meetings, reviewing docs and communication workflows, managing access, and regularly upgrading policies will create an investigation environment that is built on responsible data management.
2. Preserve Data
Keeping all your data in one place ensures that all relevant data is protected and maintained in its original state, without any alterations or deletions.
When an investigation is triggered, investigators can quickly lock the data they need from their data sources while also issuing a legal hold notice to all relevant custodians. As you do that, you should also create a data collection plan outlining how relevant data will be collected from your sources.
3. Define Investigation Protocols
To be trusted by jurors and regulators, you need to be rigorous in fact-finding. Taking shortcuts, omitting information, or not following best practices can raise suspicions of evasiveness or coverups, undermining the whole purpose of the investigation.
Establishing frameworks can help you be thorough and also factor in nuances of remote working. You need to answer questions like who conducts investigations, how data will be preserved, collected, processed, and analyzed when an eDiscovery tool will be used, and how the investigation will operate in a secure environment.
4. Choose the Right Tech Stack
If you’re going evidence-hunting in-house, working with the right tools is invaluable to help sift through huge volumes of data. If you plan to work with vendors or outsource the employment investigation, having a template along with clear instructions can make it a smooth — and cheaper — ride.
Before you go to that vendor, it might be a good idea to start with your eDiscovery provider if they have pre-established cost transparency and trusted workflows. From defensible data preservation, collection, and automatic data processing to review and production, eDiscovery providers can keep control over your most sensitive data. Take a look at this checklist to choose the right employment investigation software.
5. Minimize Intrusiveness
In order to protect the privacy interests of those involved, you should seek out the least intrusive method of investigating.
Typically, this means starting with company documents and files to establish the facts before moving on to potentially more invasive investigatory methods. Internal investigations software can reduce intrusiveness by making it quick and easy to collect, cull and review large volumes of information without involving custodians.
Reporting Your Findings
After conducting interviews and parsing through data, investigation teams must compile their findings and produce a final workplace investigation report.
This report should summarize all the steps you took, your findings, and the remedial steps that were taken. The findings of the investigation should be clearly presented, along with any supporting evidence.
If needed, this document will help prove that you took immediate action when faced with the alleged wrongdoing, that you followed all necessary steps to confirm or refute such wrongdoing, and that you did what was necessary to remedy the situation.
Wave Goodbye to an Overwhelming Data Collection Process
So, you've got a workplace investigation to conduct. Sifting through heaps of data can be stressful, but by staying close to best practices, you'll come out on top.
First things first, preserve that data like it's the last slice of pizza. Then, define those investigation protocols and keep an eye on compliance. And don't forget, document everything.
Investigation teams can create repeatable and defensible plans for investigations making costs much more predictable and use technology to automate. Not only that — internal investigations software can help you gather evidence and make sense of it at lightning speed.