What to expect during an Internal Investigation

Lesley Brovner & Mark Peters
June 6, 2024

Internal workplace investigations are an important tool to manage a company’s or nonprofits’ risk. They can be done prior to any public accusations of wrongdoing or government investigations to determine general compliance, or they can be done in response to either public accusations of wrongdoing or a government investigation. Either way, there are certain basic steps that any investigative attorney will take to complete such an inquiry.

When should you conduct an internal workplace investigation?

  • Internal investigations make sense as soon as you become aware of employee misconduct. Examples of this include:
    • Failure to follow industry regulations
    • Failure to follow internal procedures
    • Other criminal actions taken on company time or using company resources
    • Sexual, physical, or verbal harassment
    • Threats or intimidation/bullying
    • Data leaks
    • Payroll abuse
    • Theft of company property
  • Internal investigations are also important when regulators are looking at a specific issue in your industry and you want to make sure you are in compliance.
  • You may also wish to conduct an internal investigation when you become aware of a problem that has arisen at another company in your industry and you want to ensure that you don’t have that issue.

What Happens During an Internal Investigation

At the onset, it is important to have an investigative plan, outlining the steps to be taken. Internal investigations may consist of the following steps:

  • Background and computer assisted research on the entity involved;
  • Collection and review of written documents;
  • Interviews of employees and other witnesses;
  • Forensic review of computer email and accounting systems as needed;
  • Creation of a compliance plan going forward;
  • Responding to government regulators and prosecutors if necessary;
  • Responding to, or initiating, civil litigation if necessary.
  • Managing a PR team as necessary

What are the benefits of an internal investigation?

There are numerous benefits to an internal investigation, including:

  • Allowing the company to learn the full scope of the problem
  • Allowing the company to remedy internal problems and help prevent future problems
  • The investigation may allow the company to recover assets that were lost as a result of the misconduct
  • The investigation may allow the company to avoid a lengthy governmental investigation
  • The investigation may allow the company to take advantage of potential benefits of cooperation with government investigations
  • The investigation may mitigate penalties that result from civil and criminal investigations
  • The investigation may insulate the company, Board of directors, or management against allegations of complicity or of willful blindness to red flags
  • Allowing the company to manage reputational risk
  • Helping the company prepare for civil & criminal litigation
  • Promoting a culture of transparency and compliance

How Long Should a Workplace Investigation Take?

The amount of time an investigation takes depends on the scope and complexity of the inquiry. There are numerous steps in the investigative process, the length of each step will depend on the complexity of the investigation. The steps include but are not limited to:

  • Background and computer assisted research on the entity involved;
  • Collection and review of writer documents;
  • Interviews of employees and other witnesses;
  • Forensic review of computer email and accounting systems as needed.
  • Legal analysis

Preparing for the Investigation

There are a number of steps that an organization should take to prepare for an internal investigation. These include:

  • Preserving all relevant documents (paper and electronic)
  • Determining the scope of the investigation needed
  • Determining who has the appropriate expertise to conduct such an investigation
  • Deciding who will communicate for the company to the outside world if inquiries are received and set up a process for addressing those questions
  • Determining who will communicate with staff about the investigation and creating a process for addressing internal inquiries.

Dealing with Witnesses

As to witness interviews, often, these witnesses will be employees of the company or nonprofit and their interviews can be coordinated through the company or nonprofit itself. However, if the attorneys conducting the investigation have been retained by the company/nonprofit itself (which is the most likely scenario) then it is important at the outset to inform these witnesses that the attorneys questioning them represent the companies not the individuals, and that any privilege that may attach to the witnesses statements belong to the company not the individual. These are known as “Upjohn warnings.”

Reporting of Investigation Findings

At the conclusion of an internal investigation, the investigators will report the finding ot you. This can be done orally or with a written report, depending on the circumstances.

Benefits of Using an Experienced External Investigator

A knowledgeable Investigative attorney can quickly and efficiently conduct a detailed internal investigation to help your organization determine whether they are following all relevant city, state and federal rules and regulations. If not, the attorney can help create a comprehensive compliance plan to ensure that your organization gets into and remain in compliance with all relevant city, state and federal rules and regulations.

Additionally, a seasoned attorney with a proven track record and knowledge of how government agencies work and think, can help you frame the issues you want to bring to the government’s attention in the way best calculated to resonate with the agency in question.

Contact Peters Brovner LLP

The Internal Investigations attorneys at Peters Brovner LLP handle internal investigations that often begin in crisis management mode, can become the subject of intense public scrutiny and can involve a variety of areas, such as regulatory compliance, fraud, corporate governance and criminal misconduct.

We conduct investigations in a manner that both meets our clients’ objectives and is efficient and cost-effective. As a small firm, we can investigate allegations quickly, discreetly and with minimum disruption, and report our findings in a rigorous and reliable manner.

Peters Brovner LLP attorneys are seasoned litigators who have handled complex matters in federal and state trial and appellate courts.

Contact us today!