As anyone who has been paying attention to national news over the past couple of years knows, it is impossible to avoid news about the ongoing U.S. Special Counsel’s Office investigation of the Trump administration, led by Robert Mueller.
As the Mueller investigation plays out on the national stage, corporate HR departments across the country are ramping up their internal investigations procedures to handle an increase in allegations of employee misconduct. If you are responsible for your organization’s internal investigations policies and processes, you may be surprised to learn that the Mueller investigation actually has a lot in common with internal investigations in the business world.
Scope of the Investigation
When conducting an internal investigation, one of the key decisions investigators must address early on is how wide of a net to cast in the process. Critics of the Mueller investigation claim the Special Counsel is going beyond his mandate, trying to dredge up information that isn’t related to the issue of possible collusion.
Choosing a narrow scope for your internal investigation could mean you miss key evidence. Choosing a broad scope, whether in terms of time or content, could be an unnecessary waste of limited resources. Experienced investigators seek to balance these extremes and to find appropriate limits for each investigation’s scope.
Documentation of Findings
Every investigation should include documentation of its findings (or lack thereof). It’s still unclear whether the public will ultimately learn the full extent of the Mueller investigation’s findings, as the final report is subject to Justice Department review and dissemination decisions, but there is no question that Mueller’s findings will be detailed in writing.
Corporate investigations should also produce written reports outlining investigators’ findings. These reports can be invaluable if the company or its personnel later come under legal scrutiny for an investigation’s outcome. Whether a company keeps such reports confidential or makes them publicly available should be a case-by-case determination.
Choice of Investigator
Who you choose to conduct internal investigations matters. While President Trump and some of his supporters have criticized the Justice Department’s decision to put Robert Mueller at the helm of the investigation into possible collusion, he was chosen because of his extensive background and experience with conducting high-profile investigations, and because of his perceived independence.
When you are faced with allegations of employee misconduct in your organization, it is critical to choose an investigator who can be unbiased and independent in their work. Hiring an independent, third-party investigator can help alleviate concerns that the investigator is biased toward the company and can make witnesses more willing to provide open and honest testimony without fear of reprisal.
Actions as a Result of Investigation’s Findings
We don’t know yet what the ultimate outcome of the Mueller investigation will be. It’s possible that Mueller’s team’s findings may lead to new Congressional action.
In the corporate world, investigations may also lead to changes in internal policies and procedures. Sometimes, investigations reveal flaws that can be – and should be – addressed in order to avoid the same type of problem in the future.
Differences Between the Mueller Investigation and Corporate Investigations
Of course, there are important differences between the Mueller investigation and corporate investigations too. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has broad subpoena powers to compel witness testimony and enforce penalties on uncooperative witnesses; corporate investigators are largely dependent on witnesses’ voluntary cooperation with the process. Mueller also has a team of seasoned professionals focused solely on the investigation, while HR departments generally don’t have that luxury.
Conducting thorough, unbiased, and timely investigations into employee misconduct allegations is more critical today than ever. AblinLaw can help. To learn more, contact us today.