How to Conduct Remote Investigations During a Pandemic

nelson pratt

Business investigations must continue – even during a pandemic.  

When every person, organization and social event has adapted to social distancing demands, so must the world of investigations. Given the challenging environment imposed by shelter restrictions, investigators need to find ways to follow up on  reports without essential components, such as in-person interviews. So, what do investigations -- which are often sensitive and complex -- look like in this time of COVID-19?  

For some answers, and some useful guidance, we turned to Andrew Foose, former senior trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. Following is a summary of Andy’s advice delivered in a recent webinar on how best to approach remote investigations.  

He starts by asking a few more questions of would-be business investigators:    

How are lawful business investigations changing in a time of lockdowns and social distancing? 

The differences we encounter may differ by the kind of investigation being conducted and the issue being investigated.

Ultimately, these differences fall into three main categories: 

  1. Inability to interview face to face. Even with some investigations already being remote, it’s likely that more sensitive or complex investigations would still face substantial change. 

  2. Reduced access to documents and other material evidence.  

  3. Increases in anonymous reports out of fear of job loss (retaliation) during an economic downturn. 

What stays the same?  

The purpose of investigations does not change - to find out what happened. 

Keep an open mind

It’s critical for an investigator to keep in mind when reviewing an allegation is to keep an open mind. Do not assume it is true, false or somewhere in between. Whether it’s in-person or remote interviews,  keep your eyes on that prize of figuring out what occurred, not proving your supposition. 

The laws haven't changed

The laws and regulations that impact investigations also remain intact. Regardless of this new environment, data privacy requirements or restrictions on sharing personally identifiable information across borders are still regulations that need to be met. 

Plan ahead and don't rush

Investigators must not take shortcuts or think that because they can no longer conduct in person interviews, that they can rush through the process. In fact, investigators  thinking and planning, are as critical as ever, if not more so, now that circumstances have changed.  

Listen to the full Q&A session on our podcast!

What planning and accommodations are required for successful investigations and interviews? 

Prioritize your witness’ comfort. Most people are comfortable doing an interview by video these days. But not everyone will have the proper setup. Do they have a laptop? Will the interview benefit from a headset? Is this a conversation they can or should take from their home? These are all things to consider so that each party has what they need for a successful interview.  

Make sure witnesses have a distraction-free environment – and that includes time commitments. You want them to be thinking clearly, and don't want them to be put off by noises, people interrupting them, or to have a reason to cut the interview short when the questions get more intense. 

Consider how to establish authenticity. Reliability of the evidence is always something you want to weigh. You shouldn't assume that just because you've received a document, it’s reliable. If you asked someone simply to forward you an email, they could change the wording. You would want to do your best to make sure that it's an authentic email or document and not one that's been altered. Consider how you will verify the authenticity of a document which may require assistance from the company’s IT department.  

There may be other aspects of investigations that need to change, and that may differ by the type of investigation, but these are a good place to start.

Ultimately, it comes down to what needs to happen to meet the goal and deliver on what is critical in a “normal” investigation environment. 

Worried about workplace investigations? Check out our Masterclass: Internal Workplace Investigations: When, Who & How

For more ideas on risk and compliance during the challenges of coronavirus, visit Stronger Together, NAVEX Global's special resource section. 

 


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