How to Conduct an Ethics Investigation Interview

November 22, 2021

It’s Monday morning. You sit down at your desk and begin reviewing your inbox, gearing up for a typical week at the office. But as you scroll, you notice something that is far from usual: someone has reported an incident of employee misconduct.

Suddenly, your week’s agenda has totally changed. The allegation is serious, and like all employee complaints, it warrants an ethics investigation. You know you’ll need to assess the evidence, mete out appropriate consequences – but first, you need to conduct investigation interviews.

Done properly, an ethics investigation interview can yield great insights about the incident in question (and about your company’s general compliance culture). But how do you conduct a proper interview? Here are a few helpful hints.

Plan Ahead

When your company proceeds with an ethics investigation, tensions will likely be high across the office. People might be worried about their jobs, higher-ups might be anxious about the company’s reputation, and everyone will probably want to get this over with as soon as possible.

Luckily, investigation interviews don’t have to drag on for weeks and weeks – if you plan ahead and stay focused. Before you conduct your first interview, sit down with your investigative team, Discuss what you want to get out of the interview, using clear objectives (e.g., “Did the inappropriate behavior take place?” or “To what extent has the alleged misconduct reached?”) to shape your interview questions. 

Find the Essential Interviewees

Ethics investigations need to remain confidential. This is the only way to guarantee that the investigation remains legitimate, as it minimizes your risk of receiving fake evidence or fabricated accounts. As a result, it’s always best to keep the list of interviewees as small as possible.

Before you begin any interviews, follow up with the individual who gave the initial report. Find out who they know for certain was involved with the misconduct (for example, who is the alleged perpetrator or who witnessed the incident firsthand). Make your initial list of interviewees from there, and then expand the list (carefully) as you get more information through those interviews. This is the best way to guarantee that all information related to the investigation remains confidential and “need-to-know.”

Stick to the 5 “W’s”

We all learned the 5 “w” questions in school: who, what, when, where, and why. But when you’re conducting your ethics investigation, it’s worth it to brush up on the elementary school lesson! Questions that focus on the five “w’s” are going to help you get the most helpful information out of your interview subjects. They’re simple and straightforward – so make sure you design your questions with them in mind.

Be Impartial

This is one of the most important parts of your investigation. Unfortunately, in some cases, it might also be the most difficult. Ethics investigation interviews can be tense, heated situations – particularly when you’re interviewing the person accused of wrongdoing. However, if you want to have a fair and accurate investigation, it’s vital that you remain impartial throughout the process.

Additionally, keeping a calm demeanor and an impartial mindset can help you get more accurate information from your interviewees. When people feel they are being accused, they might become defensive or less forthcoming than they might have been otherwise. If you keep an open mind and allow everyone involved to tell their side of the story, you will be more likely to gather enough information to make the appropriate decision.

Seek Outside Help

Finally, it’s important to remember that proper ethics investigations take time. You need to be thorough and exacting, and you can’t rush to a conclusion if you want to get to the bottom of the issue. Of course, ethics investigations don’t mean that all your other work simply stops – which is why many companies turn to an outside source.

You can work with an ethics and compliance specialist to ensure that your investigation is as thorough as possible. A specialist can lead your team, help conduct interviews, and review findings with your HR department. By working with one of these professionals, you can guarantee a fair, impartial, and complete investigation, and you’ll still have time to perform other important duties.

At ComplianceLine, we have a wealth of experience in the world of corporate ethics and compliance. We strive to help organizations improve their workplaces through effective compliance tools and services. Contact our team today to learn more about our services and how we can help your office become a more ethical place.