Conducting interviews is often the most revealing part of internal misconduct investigations. Witnesses can share their experiences and individuals accused of wrongdoing can answer the tough questions. Traditionally, these interviews are in person and at work sites. But with the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines, this critical aspect of internal investigations has to go online.
If anything, the need for internal investigations and misconduct interviews will increase during and after the pandemic as a result of rising fraud and insider threats. Though in-person interviews may be preferable, we believe that even a remote interview can capture the same critical information and important nuances.
What the Pandemic Means for Misconduct Interviews and Internal Investigations
In-person interviews allow the interviewer to observe invaluable kinesics and biometric cues or “tells” of truthfulness that experienced investigators rely heavily upon. Some investigators believe that biometric indicators will be missed if interviews are remote. But the inevitable trade-off of an in-person interview in the COVID-19 world is wearing masks – and sitting across from an interviewee whose face is covered in a mask is not particularly practical for homing in on facial cues. Not to mention that research has suggested that our ability to detect lying and truthfulness through behavior is vastly overestimated.
Despite these drawbacks, delaying or stopping misconduct interviews are even more dangerous options. The issue is two-fold:
- The longer interviews are delayed, the harder it is to track and trace information, evidence and stolen assets identified by witnesses and subjects of an investigation. The more time people have to delete data and hide evidence, the more time-consuming and costly it can be to recover and locate.
- The longer interviews are put on hold the longer the alleged misconduct remains unresolved and the greater the organization’s potential exposure to harm – from the impacts of fraud to regulatory or reputational risks.
As a result, clients have asked us to begin remote interviews despite any perceived misgivings, especially for high-priority investigations. Technology allows investigators to interview employees privately and confidentially with most of the same benefits of a face-to-face interview.
Turns out, a remote interview can still be just as successful.
Ways to Maximize Your Remote Interviews
There are key points to consider when establishing procedures for remote misconduct interviews under the new norm.
- Establish control. It can be beneficial for the interviewer to be the one who schedules the interview rather than a representative from HR, Legal or Management. This is helpful in initially establishing parameters and logistics for the interview.
- Consider the best approach. It is important to decide whether an interview will be done by video conference or teleconference. Often, witnesses can be easily interviewed over the telephone, whereas victims and subjects of investigation are best interviewed with a video link, enabling investigators to assess some kinesics and biometric indicators of veracity.
- Retain the same level of professionalism. The interviewer should dress professionally and exhibit professional mannerisms during video conference interviews as if they were interviewing person. The interviewer should use a location with a background that does not detract or distract from the importance of the interview. These establish the formality of the interview and set the tone of the seriousness of the investigation.
- Limit distractions. Those being interviewed should be directed to locate a private location or room to minimize distractions. A loud barking dog during a key line of questioning can greatly distract from the matter under investigation.
- Collect evidence. If documents or photographs will be used during the interview, they should be shared with the interviewee either during or immediately before the interview.
- Get a translator. If translators will be used, arrangements should be made for them to participate either by phone or video link at a location separate from the witness.
Use Experts You Trust
Unfortunately, at any given time in any large organization, someone can be up to no good. Conducting timely, fair and accurate investigations of misconduct mitigates risks to the organization and its employees.
Our Investigations practice stands ready to assist you with your remote misconduct interview needs. Please reach out to a team member for more information.