Over the course of 2017, the news provided us with ample evidence as to why conducting fair, impartial investigations in the workplace is so critical for all involved. The key is to act quickly and thoughtfully, engage employment counsel early on and use these tips as a guide to help you find the right investigator.

1. Skills and licenses

Some states, like California and Connecticut, require any investigation — employment, insurance fraud, accident to be conducted by a licensed investigator, yet there may be no threshold for required skills.

For example, a retired policewoman could easily obtain her private investigator license, but she may not have the appropriate skills to conduct an employment investigation. Conversely, many skilled employment investigators are HR consultants without the appropriate license.

Unfortunately, contractors in both groups will still conduct investigations, so it is important that these two items are confirmed first using resumes and references, before engaging.

2. Engagement terms

Investigators must remain objective, and work product must be carefully handled. Objectivity, or the appearance of it, can be challenging if, for example, the CEO of the company is being investigated and is the one signing the engagement.

The work product could also be subject to different types of confidentiality and disclosure rules depending upon how the engagement is written and whether the investigator is an attorney or not. Let counsel review the agreement first.

3. Tone

Employees may act differently if they are being questioned by a lawyer as compared to an outside consultant who is an investigator. Further, private investigators and outside consultants are not subject to the same rules nor do they tend to follow the same approach as attorney investigators.

These differences are important to consider when deciding what type of outside investigator to hire.

4. Rapport

Investigators need to be able to establish trust with a wide variety of people, quickly. They need to be able to communicate clearly and impeccably. This can be assessed by conducting an interview and checking with references before engaging.

5. Specific knowledge

In some cases, it can be helpful for investigators to come in with a solid background of the company, the industry or the subject matter (finance, technology, etc.). An investigator with such knowledge may be better prepared to follow lines of question other investigators may not see.

However, it is important to note that a relationship with the company may not always be helpful, because it could mean the investigator is not neutral. Weigh the usefulness of the background information against the skills and neutrality of the investigator. Note that a good investigator could walk in with no information and still conduct a thorough, objective investigation.

6. Trends

It is important to understand the results, recommendations or conclusions investigators have made previously to determine patterns. Do they always handle sexual harassment cases because it is their specialty? Why? And what is their record? Are there any trends?

In other words, are they always hired by employers because their reports tend to support the employer? Account for this before proceeding.

7. Optics

It is important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture when choosing an investigator. While a 55-year-old white male investigator may be extremely qualified, does it make sense to hire him to investigate a harassment claim made by a 22-year-old black female analyst against a 50-year-old white male vice president?

While he may be the best person, it is important to note the optics and account for them accordingly when and if he is engaged.