Welcome to part 6 of our workplace investigation series. Here we take a look at the process of organising interviews.
Preparing for the interview
In preparing for the interview(s), investigators will need to contact the people to be interviewed and choose a suitable interview setting for each person. People should ordinarily be contacted at their place of work; investigators should take note of established protocols and any special need to protect the confidentiality of the person. It is also wise to consider any special cultural, gender, language or other factors; e.g., if the interviewee comes from a non-English speaking background, the use of an interpreter may need to be considered (discussed in the next part of the series).
Choosing the interview setting
An investigator should have control over the setting in which the interview is to take place. The location of the interview can affect the dynamic of the interview; neutral territory is preferred.
Ideally, the room should be free of external distractions (such as public address systems, the comings and goings of other employees or activity seen or heard through windows or partitions) and internal distractions (such as telephones or a desk full of papers).
Face-to-face interviews are preferred as they have a number of advantages that allow an investigator to make a more accurate assessment of a person’s credibility; they are more responsive and flexible, more spontaneous and they allow an investigator to observe and respond to both verbal and non-verbal cues.
Alternatives to face-to-face interviews
Alternatives to face-to-face interviews are telephone or video interviews and written responses.
An investigator should only resort to a telephone or video interview if they need the information urgently and the person is unavailable to meet face-to-face. A telephone or video interview is more acceptable if an investigator simply wants to clarify some details or if they need brief or less formal information. Investigators should immediately email a copy of the record of the phone or video conversation to the person to approve or amend and approve.
Employees are not to be covertly recorded under any circumstances. If an investigator proposes to electronically record a telephone or video interview with an employee, they must obtain the consent of the employee beforehand (recording of interviews is further discussed below).
Written requests for information will sometimes be an appropriate method of obtaining information. Because this process gives the respondent time to consider and prepare their response, written requests for information may be suitable to obtain detailed or more formal information. However, an investigator should be aware of the limitations of this form of information gathering.
The formality of written requests and responses can be intimidating and time consuming for respondents and this medium is clearly inappropriate for people who have difficulty in communicating in writing. Investigators should also consider:
inquiries by correspondence may offer the skilled respondent the opportunity to carefully craft responses;
written requests create more delays in the investigation than would result from face-to-face interviews; and
the risk of loss of confidentiality and of collusion.
The record of oral evidence
While the most reliable way of ensuring accuracy might be to tape or electronically record the interview, this is only to be done with the consent of the interviewee at the time they are invited to attend and also at the interview before it begins.
If tape or electronically recording, an investigator should:
test the quality of the recording before commencing;
speak clearly and audibly;
not talk over the interviewee or let the interviewee talk over them;
if possible, try not to handle documents whilst asking questions or let the interviewee handle documents while talking; this will avoid the shuffling of papers obscuring the sound of voices on the recording; and
properly identify the recording, including with the time and date.
Written records of interviews are normally used and are regarded as reliable records.
When taking a written record of interview, an investigator must take meticulous notes of the questions asked and the answers given. An investigator should have the person read over the notes and get the person to sign off on the notes to indicate that they are accurate.
If an investigator is asking a person to prepare a witness statement (in our view the least preferred form of gathering evidence), an investigator can give simple written instructions on how to prepare a statement. Please contact us if you would like an example of instructions that can be used.
The next part of our series will cover some of the issues an investigator could face when conducting interviews.