Workplace Investigation Interviews – simple guidelines for tricky sitations

by Tim Gould  January 6, 2016

You may have a lot of experience interviewing candidates for open positions, but interviewing employees as part of a workplace investigation is another animal entirely.

Bernard J. Bobber of Foley & Lardner LLP authored a guide for HR pros to follow when they need to interview a staff member following an employee complaint.

Starting the process …

His three tips for getting each interview underway:

  1. Lay out the purpose of the meeting — without giving away info you might already know.Identify why you’ve asked to speak to the employee in general terms.
    Example: “I’m investigating a claim about supplies missing from the supply closet and I want to ask you and some other employees questions about it.”
  2. Explain the need for full and honest answers.You’ll want to mention two things: your assurance that the worker won’t be retaliated against for giving truthful responses, and the risks – including disciplinary action or even termination — involved with giving false info or lying.
  3. Confirm that the employee understands what you’re asking for.Don’t hesitate to come right out and require a response. If you ask, what else can they say but “yes”?
    Example: Will you give me truthful and complete responses without withholding any information?

These three questions reiterate the importance of being truthful — and the risks the worker willingly takes on if he or she isn’t honest.

…and closing the loop

Bobber’s formula for finishing up a conversation with an employee:

  1. Ask the interviewee for other sources.Once you’ve neared the end of the interview, see if the staff member knows of any other employees who may have additional information.
    Example: Who else do you think might have relevant info, notes, statements, etc., about this? What do you think he or she knows?
  2. Ask a broad question to make sure you’ve received all the information from the employee.The last thing you want is for new information to come out later, either while the investigation has already been going on for some time or, worse, at trial.
    In addition to getting a verbal assurance from the worker that he or she won’t withhold information, you’ll also want to ask a broad question to make sure there’s nothing the staffer may have failed to give you.
    Example: Is there anything else that you think might be possibly relevant to this?
  3. State that you want the employee to come to you if he or she recalls or learns something new.
    Example:If you remember or come across any new information after we’re done here, will you please let me know?
  4. Remind the worker of your anti-retaliation policy.You already said it at the start of the conversation, but reiterate that the staffer won’t be retaliated against for telling the truth — either from you or from anyone else at the company.
    Example: If you experience any backlash, will you let me know right away so I can look into it and get it figured out?
  5. DON’T automatically require confidentiality.Until recently, you could ask a staff member to not talk about your investigation until it was over. But the National Labor Relations Board recently turned that on its head, saying that requiring workers to remain quiet could violate their rights. The reason: An employer’s concern with protecting the integrity of the investigation isn’t always sufficient to outweigh employee rights. Instead, if you want to require investigation confidentiality, you have to determine if any witnesses need protection, if evidence is in danger of being destroyed, or if there’s a need to prevent a cover up.

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