workplace investigation

Former U.S. Department of Justice attorney Michael W. Johnson last year hosted a seminar on “Science of Workplace Investigations”. The present CEO of Clear Law Institute also discussed various methods of workplace investigations.  

Johnson stressed the importance of cognitive methods to detect deception. He argued that conventional methods of workplace investigations had become outdated. He backed up his discussion with research studies and scientific material. Here are 10 takeaways from his discussion:  

Adopt a Non-confrontational Approach 

Johnson says that pressure tactics like intimidation and aggression are no longer effective. Law enforcement agencies like police use these tactics against criminals. He says that compliance officers should learn to adopt non-confrontation approaches. Journalists use the same method when conducting an interview or researching an article.  

A workplace investigator should be able to make the interviewee feel comfortable. On the contrary, outright condemnation and a cold attitude could make the situation worse. Moreover, the discussion should include minimal interruptions and clear questions. You may engage in a polite confrontation but that too should be done with necessary evidence. Make sure you do not bombard the interviewee with your suspicions.  

Listen to Your Interviewee 

Workplace investigations aren’t all about tricking respondents with clever questions. Johnson asks compliance officers to use the Cognitive Interview (CI) investigation technique. This investigation method was introduced in the eighties. Investigation officers using the CI method ask interviewees to recall details. This can help trace lies and deception. However, you should be a keen listener to detect even the slightest of a tonal shift.  

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The First Case Is as Important as the Last Case 

Companies that ignore the first case of alleged misconduct may end up facing negative consequences. Johnson stresses the importance of investigating every single case. He warns against turning a blind eye to the first case. Organizations that turn a deaf ear to calls for investigation create problems for whistleblowers. Moreover, such behavior allows aggressors to get away with their wrongdoers.  

In all, companies need to take reports of alleged misconduct seriously. This could help create a positive impression on whistle-blowers. Culprits, on the other hand, should be made aware of the consequences. A good-faith investigation is what’s best for a business and its employees.     

Do Not Fall for Stereotypical Cues 

Many investigation officers think they can trace deception by analyzing body language. Stereotypical cues like avoiding eye contact and change of facial expressions do not appear what they seem like. Johnson says that an interviewee might be nervous because of what they have to go through during the investigation process. It’s more of an embarrassment rather than the fear of being caught.  

Johnson sees the belief in Stereotypical cues similar to the concept of “Pinocchio’s nose”. The boy’s nose only grew when he lied. This means that a culprit will only wipe the sweat off his forehead when he’s close to being caught. That isn’t how workplace investigations work.  

Do Not Assume Guilt or Innocence 

Fulfilling commitments related to workplace investigations can be overwhelming. As a compliance officer, you should be impartial. You need to learn to do justice to the role of judge, jury, and executioner. After all, the onus is on you to deliver a transparent judgment. You need to learn not to derive results from assumptions. Johnson says assuming that others are speaking the truth is an example of a truth bias. This often leads to a confirmation bias. Do not reach conclusions based on biases. 

Consider Alternative Explanations  

Habitual liars may resort to different tactics to mask their wrongdoings. As a compliance officer, you should listen carefully to their statements. Moreover, consider alternative statements for better clarity and understanding of their motives. A liar might appear to be cooperative or create a misleading statement by providing crafted responses.   

Real-life Workplace Investigations are Different from TV Shows  

Whatever you see on TV shows in an enactment or is inspired by real-life situations. There is no drama involved in real-life workplace investigations. Companies can only perform employee searches if they have a reasonable suspicion to conduct the investigation. So, what happens after a workplace investigation? Well, in TV shows, such incidents end with criminal prosecution. However, in reality, companies are required to reach fair conclusions through good-faith investigations.  

Never Reveal the Identity of Whistleblowers 

A hundred percent confidentiality is impossible. However, companies can conduct lowkey investigations to maintain the privacy of the people involved. Moreover, do not make the mistake of revealing the identity of your whistleblower. In case your whistle is also a witness, prepare a mechanism to keep the investigation private.  

Be Concise and Clear with Your Reports 

Your reports should be economic and comprehensible. Do not procrastinate under pressure. Think before you commence with report writing. Moreover, ensure clarity and readability. Use relevant information to create a rough outline. Remove inconsistencies to compile a detailed outline. Reread and revise at every level.  

Overcome Writer’s Block 

Johnson suggests avoiding distractions and following the writing process listed above. He recommends outlining the report throughout the investigation. Follow a timeframe to complete tasks about the report. This way you’ll be able to brainstorm and complete your report. 


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