Checklist for a Corporate Internal Investigation

  • Former Federal Agents
  • 100 Years of Combined Experience
  • Investigations, Compliance & Defense
Chris Quick

Former Special
Agent (FBI & IRS)

Roger Bach

Former Special
Agent (DOJ-OIG & DEA)

Timothy Allen

Former Special Agent
(U.S. Secret Service & DOJ-OIG)

Ray Yuen

Former Special
Agent (FBI)

Michael S. Koslow

Former Special
Agent (DOD & OIG)

Tim Allen

Internal Audit Team Lead – Timothy E. Allen | Former Special Agent (U.S. Secret Service & DOJ-OIG)

Conducting an internal investigation for a corporation is a complex and intensively detailed task. Investigators must go into the process with a sound and thorough plan of attack, complete with foreseeable contingencies covered, in order to be adequately prepared for the ordeal.

While every corporate investigation is different, it can still be useful to have a generalized checklist on hand to make sure that all of the pertinent aspects of the inspection are going to be covered.

In over 100 collective years of conducting effective internal and external investigations, the auditing professionals at Corporate Investigation Consulting have found that, generally speaking, most internal investigations must check off at least the following eight elements:

  1. Take any necessary action to prevent the conduct at issue from continuing unabated during the investigation
  2. Determine the ultimate goal of the investigation
  3. Make sure that the investigators conducting the investigation do not have a conflict of interest
  4. Parse out what information is necessary to achieve the investigation’s goal
  5. Figure out who has that information
  6. Decide how best to get access to it in a reliable and credible way
  7. Prevent the disclosure of information found by the investigation
  8. Ensure attorney-client privilege applies to the investigation and to its findings

Professional corporate investigators will also know what other aspects must be covered in your particular scenario, as well.

Put our highly experienced team on your side
Roger Bach

Former Special Agent (OIG)

Timothy E. Allen

Former Senior Special Agent U.S. Secret Service

Chris J. Quick

Former Special Agent (FBI & IRS-CI)

Maura Kelley

Former Special Agent (FBI)

Ray Yuen

Former Supervisory Special Agent (FBI)

Michael S. Koslow

Former Supervisory Special Agent (DOD-OIG)

Dennis A. Wichern

Former Special Agent-in-Charge (DEA)

Marquis D. Pickett

Special Agent U.S. Secret Service (ret.)

1. Take Temporary Remedial Actions to Stop the Alleged Misconduct

Depending on the circumstances that drove the company to initiate the investigation, temporary remedial or corrective action may be warranted before the internal investigation even gets off the ground. For example, if the goal of the investigation is to determine whether an allegation of workplace harassment is true or not, it may be wise to put the alleged harasser on temporary leave. This not only prevents the alleged conduct from continuing; it also protects the corporation from damaging allegations that it was notified of the misconduct but did nothing.

Importantly, though, the corrective action should not be punitive in nature and should not be irreversible. At this point, before the investigation has even started, it is impossible to tell whether the allegations are true or not.

2. Set the Goal of the Investigation

Internal corporate investigations strive to answer a question. Is a particular supervisor discriminating against certain workers? Are the correct billing codes being used on claims for reimbursement from healthcare insurers? Are employees fulfilling their compliance obligations and keeping the company from violating a federal law?

If the question is unclear, the answer that the investigation uncovers may be vague, as well, or potentially even irrelevant and useless. Setting the goal of the investigation and making sure that it is as concrete as possible is essential.

3. Ensure that the Investigators Do Not Have a Conflict of Interest

If the people conducting the corporate investigation have a stake or an interest in how the inspection turns out, then the findings will be tainted and it will have almost been better to not conduct the audit at all. It is often not even enough to pick an investigator from the company’s HR department or a branch that is distantly removed from the people and issues being audited, as that person would still have an interest in the success of the company. If they find extremely damaging information, they may try to downplay how bad it is in an attempt to save their job at your corporation.

This is why many corporations hire outside consultants when they need to learn about what really happened within the company’s walls.

4. Figure Out What Information is Needed to Meet the Investigation’s Goal

Once the goal of the investigation is clear, you need to determine what information you are going to need in order to answer the call of the question that it asks. This demands much more than just details concerning the alleged conduct at issue: Investigators should determine exactly what evidence is necessary to prove or disprove the allegations being made or the corporation’s concerns.

5. Determine Who Has That Information

Once it is clear what information is the target of the investigation, auditors then need to isolate the person or the people who have access to that information. In many cases, this is the person who is making the allegations that triggered the investigation.

Just because they have access to the information or have first-hand knowledge of it, though, does not mean that they should be the exclusive target of the investigation, especially if they are the ones who are claiming corporate misconduct. Their credibility must be sounded and the full context of the information still needs to be brought out to light.

6. Decide How to Best Obtain the Information

Most of the time there will be multiple ways to get the information that will answer the question that has been posed. In these cases, investigators should generally pursue the avenue that will gather the evidence in as unbiased a form as possible – preferably in contemporaneous writings made by unbiased personnel.

However, the credibility of the information is only one factor. While it is the strongest factor, there are times where the difficulties of getting the information from that source will be significant, and the measures taken to get them extremely intrusive. For example, if a group of job applicants are claiming that a hiring manager demanded sexual favors in exchange for a job offer, information taken from the hiring manager’s personal phone will probably be extremely valuable. However, getting it would be a serious invasion of privacy and a denial of access, while itself a piece of evidence, would be a big obstacle to surmount.

7. Keep the Investigation from Getting Disclosed

When corporations conduct internal investigations, they generally want to get ahead of potential liabilities by discovering what happened before anyone else can. If news of the investigation gets leaked, that goal can get drastically undermined.

Investigators can help keep the investigation under wraps by requiring parties involved in the investigation to sign nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs, that forbid them from talking about the audit to anyone outside the organization, including the media. While the damage that comes when a single person violates their NDA is usually far more than what can be recovered from them under the terms of the agreement, the deterrent effect of an enforceable NDA is generally enough to insulate the company from reputational harm.

8. Make Sure the Attorney-Client Privilege Applies to the Investigation

Particularly when the internal investigation was conducted because of the threat of a criminal charge or a civil lawsuit, it is crucially important to get the attorney-client privilege to cover the entirety of the process. If the investigation and its results are not privileged, then a subsequent criminal case or civil claim can uncover it during discovery. This can hand law enforcement or the claimant their entire case on a silver platter, essentially doing their job for them.

Some Frequently Asked Questions About Corporate Internal Investigations and Corporate Investigation Consulting

What is the Attorney-Client Privilege?

The attorney-client privilege makes confidential communications between a client and his or her attorney undiscoverable in a civil or criminal case. While there are limited exceptions, like for communications that further a criminal enterprise or for communications by a corporate client that are sought by its own shareholders, this privilege is one of the strongest in American law.

However, the privilege is restricted to confidential communications. The privilege can be punctured if the communications were made in the presence of a third party other than the client or if the client divulges them to a third party after they are made.

What are Some Issues that Can Trigger an Internal Corporate Investigation?

Internal corporate investigations are a common and important maneuver in a wide variety of circumstances – basically whenever a corporation is facing a threat of liability and needs more information before it can respond.

Some common issues that can, and often should, trigger an internal corporate investigation are:

  • Whistleblower claims
  • A law enforcement agency has notified the company that it is under investigation for unlawful activities or other misconduct
  • Someone has filed an internal report of noncompliance or other misconduct
  • A lawsuit has been filed against the company for workplace misconduct, like harassment, retaliation, or discrimination
  • Another company is accusing the corporation of unfair business practices or fraudulent activity

In all of these situations, more information is needed before the corporation should respond. Fully ascertaining the risks is essential.

Why Doesn’t Corporate Investigation Consulting Call Itself the Best Investigation Firm?

While our team of investigators has over 100 years of collective experience conducting investigations for some of the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the world – experience which has given numerous prior clients exceptional guidance that they have then praised us for – we think that this is a judgment that is best made by our past and potential clients, rather than by ourselves. We prefer to do the hard work and let others make up their own minds about who provides the best corporate investigation services.

Contact the Professional Corporate Investigators at Corporate Investigation Consulting

The corporate investigators at Corporate Investigation Consulting have conducted countless internal audits and investigations for companies across the United States. Call them at (866) 352-9324 or contact them online to get their team started on your case.

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