Introduction to Corporate Investigations

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In order to maintain the safety and security of a company, there are many instances where you need to have formal investigations done. This can be done proactively with background checks, where you look up information on a prospective employee. The wall street journal found that 34% of all application forms contain lies about experience, education and the ability to perform functions of the job. 

You can also do it reactively, when you want to investigate a potential violation of workplace conduct/workplace violence. This includes two different types of situations. The first is physical violence, According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 2 million assaults and threats of violence happen to Americans in the workplace per year. Being able to properly investigate these incidents is important in making sure that repeat offenders don’t happen and your workplace is a safe place for your employees. Secondly, there are insider threats. People who are intentionally trying to undermine a company by selling company secrets, destroying information, colluding with other employees for their benefit and more. It’s important to understand what your needs are and ensure you have what you need to perform accurate investigations.

Background Checks & Reference Checks

A background check will investigate a candidate’s background based on criteria that you determine. Some common things companies check for include previous employment, education, criminal record and credit history. Background checks are important in preventing fraud by prospective employees that misrepresent themselves in order to get a job. Here are some key reasons why good background checks are important:

  • Resume fraud costs employers $600 billion annually (The association of Certified Fraud Examiners

  • 53% of job applications contain inaccurate information

  • 34% contain outright lies

  • 11% of applicants misrepresented why they left a former employer

Background checks can seem to be a tedious process but it’s one of the most effective ways of screening candidates. Also, there are many third party providers that you can outsource these functions to for anything from $35-$50 per candidate.

Reference Checks

Another important aspect is using reference checks. This can be a difficult one to get right because unless you know the person that is providing the reference it can be faked by a candidate. Even if you pick up the phone to call them you never know who that is one the other end of the phone, it could be their mom, uncle or a friend just pretending to be an employer. You need to be more strategic to make sure that the reference is legitimate and to make sure you are asking the right types of questions. Here some tips for performing an effective reference check:

Do Research: You can use tools like linkedin and contact them there, referencing the call you had with them over the phone. If they have no idea what you’re talking about, you know that you were dealing with an imposter. You can also try calling the company they supposedly work for and get in contact with them that way.

Use multiple references: You want to ask the prospect for at least 3 references and perform verbal reference checks with at least two of them. This is important to get a balanced perspective of who this person is and what their previous work history was like. 

Ask questions related to the job: Plan your questions carefully and come up with questions that relate to the core skills related to the job you’re hiring for. If you’re hiring for a programming job, don’t ask vague questions like “was he/she a good employee” a better question would be “what type of projects did he/she work on and in what languages?” or “can you give me an example of when they showed leadership on the job?”. 

Don’t put words in their mouths: Avoid steering questions or trying to clarify their statements for them. Statements like “What you’re saying is they can program in python?” or “ We’re looking for someone who can work remotely,  he/she worked well from home correct?”. You don’t want to steer them in any direction, you just want unbiased feedback on the candidate. 

Ask what you think they can improve on: This is a good way to get a reference to identify areas of weakness without them feeling like they are talking poorly of an employee. Do keep in mind that any employee should have things they can improve on, so this shouldn’t be taken too harshly unless it’s a key part of the job. Also, if someone is praising an employee too much throughout the process, this should be a red flag as well. Everyone has things they can improve on.

Workplace Investigations

The second type of investigation are workplace investigations, that occur after some type of security incident has occurred in the corporate environment. This can be physical events like abuse or assault where a crime or a violation of workplace conduct has occurred. For most companies it is usually best to outsource the investigative part of these incidents to a third party that specializes in that type of work. It doesn’t make sense to have full time staff dedicated to this work, unless you’re a large company and expect to be dealing with these sorts of situations regularly. However, in order to better improve the results of these investigations there are some important things you can do.

Gather and Document Evidence: This includes gathering both physical and digital evidence that will help identify what has happened. This includes things like video camera footage, emails, text messages on corporate phones etc. For physical evidence it needs to be securely stored and logged, this is to prove that the evidence was not tampered with. Digital evidence needs to be authenticated, captured, preserved and stored where only properly authorized people can access it, again to show that the evidence was not tampered with in any way. For digital evidence, it’s always best to make copies of the original evidence and do any forensic work with copies, to ensure that the original is still intact. 

Establish a chain of custody: A chain of custody is a record of how evidence was collected, moved and stored. More specifically it should show seizure, custody, control, transfer, storage and analysis of any piece of evidence and should account for all time periods from collection up until it is admitted to court. It’s critical to have this in order to prove the integrity of the evidence.

Have a means for contacting suspects and their background information: In order to better facilitate the investigation, make sure that you have contact information for any suspects before the investigators get there. You also want to have any information on their background, past complaints or anything else that may be of use in the investigation ready beforehand. 

Record all interviews: This is important because it allows for you to have undisputed evidence of what was said. Additionally, it allows for the investigators to focus on conducting the interview rather than taking notes. Lastly, it can help to reduce the likelihood of overly aggressive interview tactics by making sure the investigators are held accountable for their actions on camera. 

Don’t use overly aggressive tactics: One example of this occurred in 2006 Joaquin Robles was awarded $7.5 million dollars which was later reduced to $700k after being falsely imprisoned because investigators wouldn’t let him leave the room and threatened him with arrest unless he confessed. It’s important to use legal means of interrogation, anything that is deemed as coercion can make any confessions inadmissible.

Have specific report requirements: When going through all the steps of an investigation it’s important to document everything that was done, by whom and when. This is important because if you ever face a lawsuit or need to take it to court everything is documented and there is a solid timeline of events. Here are some key points that every report should include:

  • The individuals involved

  • Key factual findings and credibility determinations

  • Applicable employer policies or guidelines

  • Summaries of witness statements

  • Specific conclusions

  • The name of the person making a final decision

  • Issues that couldn’t be resolved

  • Employer actions taken



Corporate investigations are an important part of the overall security, safety and effectiveness of a company. Proactive investigations, such as background checks are important to make sure you are aware of the history of individuals before you hire them. For example imagine if you hired someone who was convicted of sex crimes against children, to work in a children’s daycare. You want to have as much information as possible to ensure that person is safe for your environment and that they didn’t misrepresent themselves to get the job. Secondly, reactive investigations need to be performed to make sure any misconduct on the job is thoroughly looked at and the correct action is taken. Whether it’s firing that person, getting the police involved or if they’re innocent, doing nothing at all. But you’ll only be able to make that determination, if you go about the investigation the right way.