The Importance of a Thorough Investigation

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An incomplete investigation can cause havoc to a corporation not to mention the primary parties involved in the dispute.

Let’s consider a few facts that can colour your investigation work:

  • You don’t have enough time in your day to do all the work in front of you now – to do what’s expected of you.

  • Your boss doesn’t understand the time demands of a thorough investigation and so expects on-going job responsibilities be met, while you’re attempting to investigate.

  • You wish someone else could handle this investigation work, for it makes you uncomfortable.

  • You don’t know if the complaint of harassment fits under your corporate policy definition.

  • There’s a complaint – that represents a problem that has to be dealt with right now before things get worse so let’s get in there and get the job done now.

Do any of these statements resonate with you? So often a corporation will rush through an investigation for a variety of reasons, reasons they believe are valid, reasons that compete with conducting a thorough investigation.

Time after time we see investigation work that is incomplete, rushed or simply incomplete because the investigator has not followed through on a line of questioning; has not interviewed all the pertinent witnesses or has not traced all the evidentiary material.

An incomplete investigation can cause havoc to a corporation not to mention the primary parties involved in the dispute. Let’s take a look at what can happen as a result:

  • one or both of the primary parties resigns from the corporation – thereby losing a trained, valuable resource, one that requires replacing and retraining

  • the conclusions of the investigation are erroneous – and one of the parties moves the complaint outward into another jurisdiction and the organization loses control of the process.

  • the investigation is non-conclusive – leaving both primary parties unhappy, stressed and angry – usually directed at the investigator and the organization.

  • the wrong party is found to be at fault – opening the door for legal action or again, action taken outside the organization’s jurisdiction

There are many negative outcomes to pursuing an investigation and then not thoroughly completing it, dotting all those i’s – crossing all those t’s. People’s lives can be impacted in a major way. In conducting training across the country we have learned that preparation for interviews and gathering evidence is an area where most harassment investigations need work. If the evidence is presented in an incomplete way in the final report that can lead to being unable to reach analyzed, considered conclusions based on evidence.

Witness Statements: The foundation of a thorough harassment investigation

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One of the most important factors to a complete and thorough harassment investigation is the statement.  We refer to the statements as the foundation of the report because that is the first place (besides your notes) that you have recorded and presented the evidence of the case.  

A properly written statement can do many things for an investigation.  They provide a framework for the case in that statements are the raw material of the case.  Statements give you a structure on which to base your questions for witnesses and they can also point out questions or gaps of information that the investigator needs to fill before the end of the interview or investigation.  Statements are what are left at the end of the interview process that you have the witness sign and take a copy of.  They are what you base your conclusions on.

You would have a difficult time indeed bringing in a conclusion to a case of harassment without the evidence presented in the statements and the final report.  There have been countless times that we have seen reports that attempt to make a conclusion based on a lack of evidence in the statements and the report.  These conclusions are unfortunately the ones that are vulnerable to challenge.

In conducting training across the Country, we have learned that statement writing is an area where most harassment investigations need support. People often struggle with taking information they have gathered and presenting it (in the statement and the report) in a clear and complete manner.  Unfortunately, incomplete statements lead to incomplete reports.  If the evidence is presented in an incomplete way in the final report that can lead to being unable to reach a conclusion based on evidence even though the investigator asked all the ‘right’ questions, and maybe even took ‘perfect notes’.  The evidence is just simply not there unless it is presented in a clear manner.  

Are you able to read the final report and have all your questions answered and your conclusions make sense to your boss?  Have you been asked to re-do witness interviews and/or entire investigations?  Does the witness ask for excessive changes?  These are all signs that can help you asses your statement taking process.

At Hill Advisory we follow the same pattern to format statements.  We do this because we believe that it keeps our process safe.  

Life is Looking A Little Bit Different These Days

How recent events have created an opportunity to develop alternate methods and expand our tool-kit.

My day begins with the reassuring regularity of routine, like most of you. Coffee is served, computers are turned on, to do lists are checked. There are some differences over the past year, that is without a doubt. My work routine has some notable differences. There is a total lack of travel for investigative work. All of my investigation work, occurs with the help of technology and my home office. You can’t beat the commute!

At the beginning of this global pandemic, I was like most of my friends and clients, unsure of what the future would hold. Our business had some elements of telephone interviews with investigations and we had dabbled in the e-learning space in the early 2000s but the core of our business relied on travel to Canadian cities to meet with people in person for investigations. What was the new reality going to look like? That question has largely been answered in the past year and I believe, some elements can be taken forward into our business practices.

I believe remote investigations are here to stay. Allow me to explain why.

Time. Time is one of those finite resources which all of us need to measure and dole out judiciously in our careers and lives. There is no question that conducting investigation interviews remotely (audio/video) saves time. It saves time for me, and it saves time for those that are interviewed. Saving time is good. Saved time can be spent in other areas.

Costs. Costs are lower with a remote solution. When we do not need to fly to a city, stay in a hotel, rent a car etc, we save money for our clients. Saved money can be spent on other initiatives.

Speed. Remote options are also faster. Instead of looking at my calendar, and case load, and established trips, to figure out my first availability to fly into a location and interview a number of witnesses, I can weave remote interviews into my current week. I can often begin cases the same week that the client has established contact with me. Total time to completion is halved. The benefits to having a case completed and coming to a conclusion based on the evidence, and being able to action that in a much faster timeframe are clear and obvious in terms of the benefits to a workgroup.

A benefit analysis is only one part of any decision matrix though. There needs to be an examination of the potential costs to moving from an in-person interview method to a remote option. And I have heard some objections to a remote based approach over the past year. Some witnesses have outright said they prefer for the investigation to occur in person and I even had one complainant tell me that I needed to interview people in person so that I could tell when they were lying to me. The presumption being, of course, that his information would be verified as unvarnished truth, and others’ lack of candour would be seen clearly by the investigator; but only if done in person. I have always been careful to rely on the evidence when I make my conclusions, and the way that someone moves, looks, or phrases information has never made it into my decision making process. I am neither an expert in such things, nor do I think they can be proven to form a causal relationship with any sufficient degree of accuracy. 

What then are we to do as we emerge from the Government imposed restrictions on non-essential travel? Do we revert back to conducting all investigations in person only?

I have tried to think of the issue in a few ways and I think and ultimately, I believe we should expand our tool-kit to include a variety of techniques and approaches. In any analysis I try to start at the start. I wondered what the law and policy had to say on the topic of in-person versus remote investigations.

Is there policy, or law that says we need to conduct an investigation interview in person?

Is there policy, or law that says we need to conduct an investigation interview (and in my case I focus on harassment/discrimination type investigations) in person, only? It turns out there is not. In fact, at the beginning of the pandemic, we even went so far as to ask our legal team to research the case law in our area to determine if the reliance on remote tools to conduct an investigation would or could make us vulnerable at appeal. The research indicated no such risk. We also realized that there are many processes that utilize a remote approach, including within the legal system, when dealing with both civil and criminal matters. If it works in the court system, surely it will work in the corporate world? Or at least be a tool that we can rely upon.

Once we understand that there is no legal barrier to the technique, I think there is benefit to asking the question of why people would object to a remote option versus an in person method. I have found that in some cases of objection, when I explained our process, including the statement building process with the provision for editing, most objections were resolved successfully. I have had some clients say that they would prefer an in-person approach when faced with an objection. And that’s okay, I know how to make my way through the less crowded airports and wear my mask on flights. I can meet folks in person. It’s all about a flexibility in approach.

I will continue to advocate for a remote option with clients going forward. Remote investigations cost less and get done faster. And that is a powerful combination of benefits. So, while a lot of us have no doubt been impacted in some negative ways in our professional and personal lives, I do believe there is some benefit to be had. Perhaps we can conduct faster and less costly remote investigations for some portion of our work in the future. I know I’ll look forward to more efficiency with the new tools available to us!