With many workforces continuing to work remotely, companies have had to reshape the ways in which important business functions are executed, including the ways in which workplace investigations are conducted. In fact, over the last several months, many businesses have switched to conducting investigations remotely. These remote investigations can have some significant benefits, such as cost savings, reduced travel, and increased efficiency. However, remote investigations can also have their own unique challenges. Below are five practical tips employers should consider when conducting a remote investigation.
1. Develop an Investigation Plan
As with any investigation, one of the most important steps is to develop an investigation plan. This is especially important with remote investigations, as more planning is required when witnesses are working from home and documents may not readily accessible. Employers should first determine who will conduct the investigation (including whether it will be handled internally or by a third-party) and set the scope of the investigation at the outset. During this process, the investigators should identify any conflicts of interest, prepare an initial witness list, and review any implicated company policies and relevant documents.
2. Prepare for Remote Witness Interviews
In ordinary circumstances, witness interviews are typically conducted face to face. However, in a remote environment, the next best option is for the interviews to be conducted by video. Investigators should familiarize themselves with the company’s videoconferencing platform and have a plan in place in the event a witness does not have access to video technology or has technical issues. Additionally, when interviewing witnesses remotely, the investigator should ensure no one is recording the meeting, confirm the witness is alone in the room and is otherwise free from distractions.
3. Document Data Collection Efforts
Remote investigations can present challenges for data collection, particularly where hard copies of documents are held in various locations. Accordingly, cooperation from the custodians of these records will be necessary, and companies should document steps it has taken to obtain and access such information.
4. Prepare Investigation Report
When preparing an investigation report, the investigator should first consider the audience and reflect on the purpose of the investigation. For example, will the report be viewed only by internal decision makers or will it be reviewed by external third parties? This analysis will help guide the framework and scope of the report. Generally, all investigation reports should include an outline of the investigation, a list of witnesses interviewed, identify the documents collected and reviewed, and provide a summary of the background and conclusions. Investigators should be specific and succinct about factual findings and deliberately and carefully make judgments. When the report is complete, it should be sent securely with built-in restrictions on printing and onward circulation. Employers should also be familiar with the company’s ability to track access to documents.
5. Review Data Privacy Policies
Finally, employers should review the company’s telework and data privacy policies. Given the shifting nature of how employees now communicate, the company will want to ensure that Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and other communications platforms are included in the company’s data privacy policies and that to the greatest extent provided under the law, the company has the capability to preserve and collect data remotely.