Even with the many changes in the law and technology, investigation is still about gathering information. In the case of an attorney-client, it’s about gathering intelligence to be used as admissible evidence, particularly in discrimination and worker’s compensation cases. In the case of an employer-client, it’s about gathering intelligence that may or may not be used in a judicial proceed ing. Employers need reliable intelligence to make informed business decisions, such as hiring an employee, acquiring a competitor, or investigating an injury claim. The involvement of an investigator may result in the public prosecution of an errant employee or the quiet termination of a “guilty” party. Allegations of employee misconduct run the full gamut, and reflect the creativity and genius of our society as a whole.
Some employers use investigations to establish the due diligence of the employer in responding with an independent neutral third party—as opposed to a human resources director who may be perceived as biased in favor of the employer—to investigate claims of harassment.
Investigators interview all parties involved; review evidence such as email, receipts, or expense reports; and exhaust all ancillary issues before presenting their findings in the form of a written summary. The investigative report is a valuable tool in assessing the validity of any type of employment claim and can bring about a timely resolution, without incurring the expense and disruption of litigation.
Investigators are used to documenting the theft of trade secrets from an organization after a valued employee walks out the door and into the door of a competitor, taking valuable methodology and clients with him/her. These can be rather sophisticated investigations, involving discreet research, interviews and surveillance, as well as computer forensics. The objective in these instances is to gather real and testimonial evidence and move as quickly as possible to get a temporary restraining order against the new employer without further damage to the business.
Investigators are still used for the traditional tasks such as investigating an employee suspected of dealing drugs in the parking lot, or the bookkeeper on a 25K salary who drives a Jaguar.
Many workplace investigations, especially those involving evidence of fraud, theft, and all other types of employee misconduct, have changed dramatically by the invention of IT equipment. Currently, it is standard operating procedure to include the computers and other electronic media (PDAs, mobile telephones, digital cameras) when investigating an allegation of employee misconduct or malfeasance. When applicable, monitoring software is installed to assist in documenting the conduct before the employee is confronted. Frequently, investigators work with the IT personnel to review electronic data, comply with e-discovery requests or conduct vulnerability assessments of electronic assets. IT investigators evaluate policies and procedures to prevent security breaches.
New legislation, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, has placed a greater burden on employers for reporting management of finances as well as screening and monitoring of new and existing employees. Employers and their consultants (CPAs, attorneys, etc.) are evolving into newly deputized watchdogs. The importance of identity verification and comprehensive background checks, coupled with the company’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for its workers, has catapulted the legal and investigative professions into providing proactive rather than reactive responses to employment issues. Many are dealing with these new issues by using, at least in part, investigators.
Thus, even with all the changes in the law and technology, private investigators remain a helpful tool for employers.