Yesterday’s Advisor presented attorney Christine D. Mehfoud’s advice regarding well-executed internal investigations and how they boost compliance programs. Today, Mehfoud’s 5 simple steps to conducting an effective investigation.
Mehfoud, a director at Spotts Fain PC, emphasizes that while flexibility is important during the course of an internal investigation, pitfalls are also common and should be avoided. To help, here are five essential steps that should be covered in investigation training.
1. Designate a proper investigator. Whether you choose to use outside counsel or an internal representative as an investigator, the individual(s) you select must have three important traits:
- Independence. They must be motivated to complete the investigation with little outside assistance or prompting.
- Impartiality. Appointed investigators should not be in the reporting chain of the alleged wrongdoer OR the complainant, and if the issue under investigation involved any legal advice from outside counsel, the same counsel should not serve as the investigator.
- Integrity. An investigation’s credibility hinges on the investigator acting with integrity.
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2. Assess and define the scope of the investigation. It’s extremely important to assess and constantly reassess the scope of an investigation, says Mehfoud. A common pitfall is tackling too much and lacking focus. If you are having some sales ethics issues, for example, you don’t need to review your entire pricing structure. If your compliance issue has precipitated government action, clarify the scope of the investigation with the government regulator. If it’s triggered by an employee complaint, a background interview and initial document collection may define the scope.
3. Identify the key players. To stay focused, identify the chief complainants and wrongdoers, and make them priorities for further inquiry. It’s important to be flexible and reassess this, as the key players may change the more you investigate, says Mehfoud.
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4. Collect and preserve necessary documents. Documents (including e-mails and text messages) are your best form of evidence. Issue a document hold that suspends normal documentation destruction practices and instructs relevant parties to preserve documents—be sure you have procedures in place to link documents to their authors and recipients.
5. Conduct appropriate witness interviews. Investigators should be guided by the documents and allegations to identify their witnesses, says Mehfoud. When interviewing, stay mindful of both the employees’ and the company’s rights and obligations. Focus on your key players, and balance preparation with the need to act quickly.