12 Basic Principles of Internal Investigations
April 27, 2017
Many universities and companies encounter issues when relevant internal staff, such as Human Resources or Compliance Officers, must deal with allegations of sexual misconduct without the benefit of basic investigative training. As part of our training services, Kroll can lead members of your incident response team through the following 12 basic principles for effective and properly conducted internal investigations.
||Be fair and objective. Everyone involved in an investigation deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.
||Do not pre-judge. Wait until all witnesses have been interviewed and evidence examined before reaching factual determinations and ultimate conclusions.
||Avoid the appearance of bias. If the key parties to a dispute or allegation of misconduct are personally known to the investigator, or if the allegation of misconduct is against a high-level university official, someone more independent should be brought in to conduct the investigation.
||Plan and outline the investigation before starting. Think through who should be interviewed and in what order; what documents and evidence should be gathered before interviewing certain witnesses; and what interim measures are needed (e.g., temporarily restricting access to computers).
||Investigate promptly. Certain investigative steps may need to be done immediately – for example, preserving electronic and other evidence. But rarely should an investigation be rushed and prematurely concluded due to some arbitrary deadline.
||Keep the investigation separate and independent from the stakeholders. Especially in sensitive matters, the university president, provost, general counsel, or board members may wish to be kept apprised of the investigation’s progress and preliminary findings. This should generally be avoided so as not to compromise the integrity and independence of the investigation itself.
||Never mislead a witness. Do not disclose details of the investigation to your witnesses, do not make promises that cannot be kept, and do not lie to or make misleading statements to the witnesses.
||Protect confidentiality. Failure to take reasonable precautions to protect the confidentiality of the investigation and the witnesses being interviewed can damage reputations and potentially lead to cover-ups, liability, and retaliation.
||Protect reputations. Nothing can undermine the credibility of a university-based investigation more severely than if the investigation fails to adequately protect the reputations of students, university employees, and witnesses.
||Investigate acts of retaliation. If during the investigation a report or allegation of retaliation against the person who reported the misconduct or any other witness is received, the alleged retaliation must be immediately and thoroughly investigated.
||Seek every witness’s cooperation. Try to obtain the cooperation of all potential witnesses, not only those who may support or corroborate one side of a dispute.
||Reach a conclusion. Even in difficult cases involving conflicting accounts from equally credible sources, it is important to make determinations regarding credibility and reach reasonable fact-based conclusions based on a thorough evaluation of the evidence.