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Occasionally I am asked to conduct investigations in remote parts of the country. Through discussions with the client, it is typically agreed that I will travel to one of their regional offices in order to conduct a number of the interviews in person. As I will only be making one trip, it is always important that I spend time setting up the process to ensure that it is both efficient and fair to the parties. Having delivered training to many human resources professionals over the years who are responsible for conducting investigations across the province or country, I thought it might be helpful to share a few steps that can be part of the preparation for an investigation in a regional office.
- Obtain a Detailed Written Complaint in Advance
It is always necessary to share the allegations with the respondent in advance of your interview with him or her. It is important that they are given a reasonable amount of time to review the allegations and prepare for their interview. In some investigations, the complainant interview can be used to gather information for the purpose of preparing a detailed set of allegations. If you are only spending two or three days at the work location, however, this may not leave you enough time to prepare and share the allegations with the respondent in advance of their interview. That is why it is important to obtain a detailed written complaint in advance of your trip and share those allegations with the respondent as early as possible. Should you receive an additional allegation or two during the in-person interview with the complainant, it will likely be reasonable to share these with the respondent early during your short visit and expect him or her to be able to review them and prepare if they have already had the opportunity to review the bulk of the allegations. To provide them maximum time, consider starting your visit with the complainant and ending it with the respondent. Witnesses can be scheduled in between the two interviews with the parties.
- Conduct a Pre-Interview with the Parties
A telephone pre-interview with the complainant and the respondent will allow a few things. First, you can respond to any process questions or concerns that might derail the process if they are left to be answered during their in-person interviews. In addition, you can confirm with the complainant that the complaint that they have provided you is as complete as possible. A pre-interview is also an opportunity to get a basic outline of the respondent’s response to the complaint. You may even discuss the possibility that they provide a written response before you travel. Lastly, it is an opportunity to discuss the parties’ potential witnesses.
- Request Witness Lists and Will Say Statements
Often in a workplace interview, the witnesses are identified during the complainant and respondent interviews. If you are only making one trip to the location, however, you will want to schedule as many witness interviews during that trip as possible. To do this effectively and efficiently, you need the parties to provide you sufficient information about who has relevant information related to their version of events. A thorough investigation does not require you speak to everyone; it requires you to speak to the individuals that have relevant information about the allegations. By obtaining informal will say statements from the parties, you can schedule in-person interviews with as many of these witnesses as possible.
- Leave Gaps in Your Schedule
With only two or three days at a regional office, it may be tempting to pack your days from start to finish with interviews. Not only will this be exhausting, but it will prevent you from having any flexibility while you are there. Leave some spaces to review your interview notes, prepare for the respondent interview and slot in unexpected witnesses whose names come up during other interviews and who are available to speak to you.
When conducting workplace investigations, unexpected issues will often arise that will require the investigator to make decisions on the fly. In the case of regional interviews, this is especially true as the investigator is only at the location for a limited amount of time. Some follow-up interviews will be necessary, either by telephone or videoconference. But when time and energy is spent thoughtfully setting up the investigation process, these issues can be minimized and fairness to the parties can be maintained despite the time crunch resulting from a short visit.