A dilemma for certain for employers…internal investigations can be time-consuming, intrusive and costly; and if done incorrectly, the company can be exposed to considerable liability. So when is it appropriate to bring someone in from the outside to look into allegations of improper behavior in the workplace?
Seasoned human resource professionals are more than qualified to conduct the lion’s share of internal investigations. They review documents, emails and policies, interview witnesses and routinely get to the bottom of whatever may be going on efficiently and in short order. Based on their findings and knowledge of the inner workings of the company, they make recommendations to management and close the loop with the complaining employee and the accused. An outside investigator will be the exception for the company with an experienced HR Department or Manager.
An experienced neutral outside investigator is a necessity, however, when
1) The allegations involve as either complaining party or target of the investigation a member of the HR Department or upper management (officer, director, member of the board of directors).
2) The accusations have been made public. If the allegations have been reported in the press or are even widely known within the company, an outside presence is a must to preserve the integrity of the investigative process and insure that the process is viewed externally as having been fair.
3) An attorney should be involved in order to at least partially maintain the attorney/client privilege. This may be the case when the employer’s own employment counsel conducts the investigation.
4) The situation is highly confidential or sensitive.
5) There are allegations of criminal behavior and cooperation with law enforcement is necessary.
6) There are other reasons to question whether the in house team is sufficiently experienced or will be viewed as unbiased and objective.
When deciding whether to hire an outside investigator, whether that investigator is the company’s own attorney or someone completely independent, management and HR should consider the individuals and issues to be investigated and determine whether outside guidance will assist the company to avoid risk of future litigation or provide important defenses if litigation occurs.