SCCE Internal Investigations Scenario

By Meric Craig Bloch

On June 7-8, 2018, Al Gagne and I will be leading the SCCE Internal Investigations Compliance Conference. It’s a two-day workshop where we teach the basics of conducting a compliance investigation in your workplace. 

Our workshop takes a practical, hands-on approach to investigations to give you the confidence and skills needed to make a real difference in your organization. Al and I will challenge your thinking and assumptions. Everyone participates in our sessions.

In anticipation of our workshop and to get you thinking, we put together a hypothetical situation. We invite you to contribute your thinking.

Here’s the situation:

You arrive at work to find a voicemail message. It is from someone who describes herself as an employee but does not give her name. She said that she has a concern but is not sure whether she wants to make a report. For now, she would like to talk to you off the record.

The caller wants to discuss her concerns about her manager, Bob Smith. She claims that Smith is “harassing” people in the office and “creating a hostile work environment.” The caller does not say whether she is one of those people or describe the behavior in detail. However, she demands the company conduct an investigation. Finally, she mentions that others may be venting their outrage on social media.

Because she was unable to speak directly with you, she plans to call you tomorrow at 9am. How will you prepare for the call? What important points do you want to inquire about or clarify?

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  1. Meric,

    First I would review the company’s Workplace Violence & social media policies (if there are any).
    I would try to get the names of staff members in that department from HR.

    During her phone call, ask her;
    Ask if she was a union member, & if she wanted her union representative present?
    Has she reported Smith’s alleged behaviors to anyone else?
    If so, whom?
    What was their response?

    Describe Smith alleged behaviors.
    How long has Smith been harassing employees?
    Were these behaviors witnessed or hearsay?

    Did she see the social media sites or was it hearsay?
    What were the social media sites she referenced & did they mention the company on the sites?
    Who had been the alleged victims.
    Were the alleged victims the people that posted on the social media sites?
    If not, who posted on social media?
    Does she think that the alleged victims would want to speak to you about what they had experienced?
    If you didn’t get enough information from her, try to schedule an interview with her & union representative, if needed.

    • Thank you for the comment. The important takeaway is that we never should start the investigation — or consider it seriously — without speaking to the reporter. The goal is to learn what the reporter knows and how she knows it.

      While we certainly want to know details from the reporter, we are trying to assess the report as well. Does it affect only the reporter, or are other people impacted? Are there any bigger issues that we need to escalate to others? Has she tried to resolve this with others in management, but she believes they have not responded?

      Next question: what if she is willing to speak to you but wants it to be off the record? What do you do?

  2. Meric…this is a gem!

    When you consider that conducting investigations is certainly an ongoing activity by compliance professionals, obtaining input, comments, or suggestions on how to conduct a better investigation is certainly a welcomed offering.

    I think in some cases, compliance professionals may have to learn how to conduct investigations using the On the Job Training (OJT) technique. The problem with this approach is that though a compliance professional may become very skilled at conducting investigations, some of the earlier investigations that helped the compliance officer reach that point probably could have been done better.

    Hands on is the way to go in my book!

    I particularly like your hypothetical because it touches on a number of important ideas that need to be managed during an investigation:
    • Person does not identify themselves;
    • A request to speak about the issue before actually filing a complaint or allegation; and
    • An element of hesitancy which could mean the person is fearful of retaliation.

    So I think your hypothetical may sound very close to actual situations that are landing on the desks of compliance professionals in just about all industries.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for your comment. It always surprises me how many people think past experience is a substitute for proper investigative training.

      Professional disciplines like HR, Legal, Internal Audit, etc. all contain elements of what you need to be an investigator. But they don’t have all of them.

  3. Have you ever had this happen? Assume she speaks with you. Then the next day she has “reporter’s remorse” and wants to retract the complaint.

    What do you do?

    • Depending on the credibility, degree and frequency of the harassing behaviors, you may not be able to keep it off the record or retract the statements.
      As a “responsible employee” we sometimes have to disregard the wishes of the Reporter to protect the other employees, institution and investigate the allegation. We should notify the Reporter accordingly.

  4. Thank you for the reply. In my view, the reporter cannot withdraw the report.

    It is important to remember that the process is not intended to serve as an advocate for the employee. In other words, the goal is not to deliver a result to the employee, so his / her preference to continue the effort is irrelevant.

    A report is a piece of information. It tells the organization that there may be some aspect of non-compliance. The organization must appropriately assess and resolve the report. It does not depend on the preferences of the reporter.

    That being said, I would also ask the reporter why he / she wants to retract the report. You may be able to address those concerns and keep the process on track. If the reporter has retaliation concerns, all the better to understand why.

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