How do you know when a workplace investigation needs an outside investigator? While we’d love to say “always,” many investigations can be handled internally by competent HR personnel or in-house counsel. There are, however, red-flags that indicate when an outside investigator is necessary:
- The government is involved (EEOC, SEC, DOL)
- There is a chance of a lawsuit or government investigation
- More then one employee complains about the same serious problem (e.g. systemic racism)
- The accused is a high-ranking employee
- The complaint is subject to media attention
- The complaining employee has hired a lawyer, filed a suit or a charge with a government agency (EEOC, OSHA, Wage and Hour Division)
- The accusations are extreme (allegations of rape, assault, threats, theft)
- There is a heightened need for objectivity and impartiality
In these situations, the benefits of an outside investigator are many: knowing how to prepare a report that will likely be evidence or a defense in litigation or a government investigation, less interruption to business, more effective interviews, and the perception that the company is taking the complaint seriously.
When choosing an outside investigator, ask for credentials, references, whether he/she has served as a witness, and examples of prior investigations and the results.