Focusing on Internal Investigations
A speak up culture is an important component of a company’s commitment to organizational justice. All of the pieces of an internal justice system have to fit together and are interdependent. When one part does not work, the whole system does not work.
A robust internal investigation system is a critical component of organizational justice. Companies often pull together the basic components of an internal investigation system but fail to fine-tune the system to maximize efficiency and minimize resources.
Most internal investigations resolve human resource issues. Approximately 80 percent of employee concerns relate to human resource or complaints about supervisors. However, employee concerns are critical to unearthing conflicts of interest and potential significant issues like FCPA or sanctions violations.
An important reminder of the importance of an employee hotline was the Goodyear FCPA enforcement action from last year. The FCPA issue was raised through an employee hotline call.
A company’s internal investigation system has to be consistent, timely and fair. There are several important aspects to these requirements. A consistent internal investigation system requires transparency as to procedures and policies followed for conducting internal investigations. A company should publicize internally the specific policies and procedures to govern internal investigations.
The old adage that justice delayed is justice denied applies with equal force to the internal investigation function. Routine internal investigations should be completed in 60 to 90 days. Further delays beyond 90 days undermine the effectiveness and trustworthiness of internal reporting systems.
An internal investigation system has to dispense justice that is fair. Consistency in meting out discipline is an important requirement. Similar violations have to be punished consistently. Whether an employee is senior executive or a lower-level employee, the punishment for equivalent violations has to be consistent.
As to the internal investigation system, companies wrestle with a big issue – who is going to conduct an internal investigation. Many companies leverage existing resources by using employees in the field as part-time or occasional investigators. These investigators have other responsibilities and usually are trained in a multi-day program on how to conduct investigations.
The danger of such an internal investigation program is the loss of quality control over the conduct of internal investigations.
Another key technique to promote consistency is the creation of internal investigation templates for witness interviews, report writing and elements of potential violations. Inexperienced investigators tend to veer off on tangents or waste time and resources on questions and inquiries that have little relevance to an investigation.
The key to focusing an internal investigation is to focus on the elements of the offense – whether a legal or Code of Conduct violation. A company has to break down the elements of each offense so that investigators focus on the important issues in an investigation.
Similarly, witness interview and report writing templates are important to focus an internal investigation. Keeping focus on the real and significant issues in an internal investigation is critical to efficient internal investigation systems.