Kevin Ian Schmidt

Guidelines for Investigation Interviews

Employee Investigation Interviews are set up to review claims made by employees regarding discrimination, harassment, violence, or other prohibited behaviors in the workplace.


The Investigation Interview Process

When you’re conducting employee investigation interviews, the interview process should be carefully planned, followed, and documented to help mitigate exposure to litigation. The sequence of interviews should generally start with the complainant, followed by the accused, and then any witnesses or other parties involved.

While there is no law mandating how quickly an investigation must begin, a good rule of thumb is to start the investigation within two business days of receiving the complaint. A prompt investigation will offer several advantages:

  • Memories are fresh.
  • Witnesses and other relevant parties will still be available.
  • Gossip or rumor mills are less likely to interfere with information.
  • Witnesses will less likely be tampered with or intimidated.
Check out my post Factors to consider in an investigative interview for more tips on the process


Take detailed notes during each interview. Make sure you are only documenting factual information and observable facts about the interviewee’s behavior and demeanor during the interview. Avoid assumptions or opinions about what is said or what you believe to have happened. Stay away from documenting subjective conclusions based on the interviewee’s behavior or demeanor during the interview. Notes should include the following:

  • Administrative details such as name, job title, and date of interview
  • Warning statements such as “keep information confidential,” “no retaliation,” etc.
  • Key factual points of the interview
  • Non-verbal expressions like tears, failure to look interviewer in the eye, and nervous affectations

Maintain all documentation related to the investigation in a separate, confidential file apart from the employees’ general personnel files. Limit access to investigation files to only those with a legitimate need to know.

Check Out: Effective Communication Skills – NONVERBAL

Questioning Techniques

Prepare questions in advance:

  • Ask who, what, where, when, why, and how.
  • Ask questions that require events be stated chronologically. This allows the investigator to compare different versions of the story.
  • Although you should plan your questions in advance, additional questions may arise based on the information you gather. Don’t limit yourself to the planned questions; ask follow-up questions to clarify.

Keep these few tips in mind when interviewing:

  • Begin with open-ended questions, then transition to more detailed, specific questions.
  • Avoid asking tough questions first; start with simpler questions to put the interviewee at ease.
  • Ask one question at a time and do not move on to the next question until you have all the information needed. Do not interrupt.
  • Ask for specific examples.
  • Remain neutral; don’t formulate an opinion before all the facts have been gathered.
Check Out: Effective Communication Skills – LISTENING

Interviewing the Complainant

When you begin the interview, state the purpose of the meeting and restate relevant company policy. Inform the complainant that the company takes all complaints seriously and will conduct a prompt and thorough investigation. Thank the complainant for bringing the matter to the company’s attention and assure the person the information will be confidential to the extent possible.

Ask for a full explanation of the situation. Ask specific questions such as:

  • What happened?
  • Who said what?
  • Where did the incident take place?
  • What time did it happen?
  • Who was present?

When concluding the interview, ask if there were other witnesses; document the response even if the complainant says no. Summarize the interview with the complainant and have the complainant confirm that it is accurate. Document the response to the confirmation question. Instruct the interviewee to provide any additional information that may not have been covered. Remind the interviewee that all information should be kept confidential. And last, but definitely not least, reiterate the no-retaliation policy, telling the interviewee to report any retaliation incidents.

Interviewing the Accused

When you start this interview, let the accused know that you are conducting an investigation of wrongdoing on behalf of the employer and that he/she is the subject of the investigation. Inform the individual of the accusations so the accused can respond and reiterate confidentiality and no-retaliation policies.

Ask the accused for a response to the allegations of wrongdoing; ask clarifying questions about who, what, where, when, and how the incident occurred. Ask if the accused understands the company policy regarding the situation. Also, ask if there is anyone who can corroborate the accused’s story.

When you conclude the interview, ask the accused if there were any witnesses. Summarize the account just provided and have the accused confirm the account is accurate as it was told. Ask the accused to report any additional information that comes to mind after the interview is over. And last, remind the accused of the confidentiality of the information provided and the no-retaliation company policy.

Interviewing the Witnesses

When you are ready to interview any witnesses, make sure you talk to each one individually. Explain the purpose of the interview and ask the witness for any information about the situation. At the end of the interview, remind witnesses of the confidentiality of the information provided and the no-retaliation policy.

When you conclude the interview, ask the witness if there is anyone else the interviewer should talk to; document the answer, even if it is no. Summarize the witness’s statement and confirm with the witness that it is accurate as reported.

Interviewing each person thoroughly and carefully in an employee investigation is critical to getting the facts – from all involved – correct. Remember, someone’s job or life could be adversely affected by the outcome of your investigation. Do your very best to conduct unbiased and clear interviews.


These investigation interview tips will help keep you sharp, but if you need professional assistance, or want to conduct a training for your staff, please feel free to contact me.

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