Many of the old ways of completing basic human resources tasks have been changed by new remote workforces and the need for physical distancing. One of the areas most impacted is internal workplace investigations.
Although gathering information and conducting interviews in person is preferable in almost every context, current conditions make face-to-face interactions impossible or, at the very least, ill-advised.
In a recent article, attorneys John Adams and Bruce Sarchet of labor and employment law firm Littler lay out some practical suggestions for HR pros as they conduct investigations in the new remote work environment.
Virtual investigations require thorough planning on the front-end and can present additional obstacles.
Difficulties presented by a virtual investigation include:
- Dealing with evidence, including obtaining and safeguarding physical items.
- Reduced access to hard copies of documents.
- Logistics of safely searching desks, lockers, etc., if necessary.
But, Adams and Sarchet note, there are some advantages over traditional investigations:
- More flexible scheduling. Remote communications tech lets you schedule interviews and other conversations more quickly than might otherwise be possible and gather information while it is top-of-mind for interviewees.
- Reductions in the amount of time, cost and travel required.
Getting tech right
Investigators should work closely with tech support and test any systems well in advance of an interview or other conversations, the attorneys caution.
Also, prepare the interviewee. Make sure that you can adequately see and hear them and that they are in a quiet, private space. If the interviewee will be at the client’s worksite, work with HR or a local manager to make sure the location and setup are done properly.
And, they add, think through any complications that may arise, for example, whether a language interpreter will be needed.
Additional items to consider:
- Have alternatives available in case your first choice glitches and you can’t reschedule. This may include alternative video conferencing platforms or simply being ready to conduct the interview by phone.
- Factor in time to work out any last-minute technical details.
- Carefully watch and take note of physical and verbal reactions. Notice and document the context any time the interviewee looks away from the camera, mutes their microphone or leaves the room.
Amidst all the turmoil the COVID crisis has created for employers and employees, prompt investigation of employee complaints and claims is crucial.
Littler’s experts remind employers that failing to move quickly on an investigation not only risks not correcting unlawful behavior. It can leave you open to claims you haven’t exercised reasonable care.
And, they emphasize, proper preparation and planning will facilitate successful investigation no matter the context or format.
Need more information?
It takes years of experience to become an expert at workplace investigations. Every case is different, and each one presents its own challenges.
Join us for Top 20 HR Questions About Handling Investigations – Answered! a free webinar on July 16th and then available on demand. Investigations expert Meric Craig Bloch will answer all of your questions about workplace investigation. He’s trained thousands of people on the investigation process and developed a comprehensive list of the most common (and most pressing) questions – and he’s going to share them with you!
Get answers to the top 20 questions HR professionals have when handling workplace investigations, including:
- When attorney-client privilege applies
- How to resolve a he said/she said
- How to respond to common challenges made by the investigation subject
- And much more!
Click here for registration and more information.