10 Chapter 10: The Interview

Once notifications have been sent out and the investigator has prepared their opening statement and questions, the interview process can begin. It may be a formal investigative interview that requires extensive preparation, or it may be a more informal interview which can be conducted shortly after an incident.

The interview

Ideally, investigative interviews should be conducted face-to-face. This allows the investigator to meet the person and develop some rapport. It also enables the investigator to watch for visual clues during the interview that might indicate that the person is uncomfortable, does not understand a question or other body language and facial signals that can be helpful in conducting the interview.

If face-to-face is not possible then doing the interview over video chat may be considered. Conducting a video interview using tools such as Skype, Teams, or Google Meet is a good alternative to face-to-face interviews.

Telephone interviews may be conducted if face-to-face or video chat is not possible, remembering that the participant may have support people accompany them to the interview and the arrangements must allow for their attendance. Obviously, the interviewer will not have the benefit of observing the person’s body language or facial expressions with a telephone interview.

The investigator should ask if there are any accommodation needs required in advance of the interview. This could be a variety of accommodations ranging from needing an interpreter to using a meeting room which is accessible for those with mobility challenges.

Interview vs. Interrogation

Using the PEACE model of interviewing, an interview is a “a planned, cooperative, and voluntary two-way conversation versus an interrogation. An interrogation is a planned, confrontational and accusatory conversation with a suspect. Interrogations are designed to fairly and impartially collect truthful information on what the suspect did, and through direct questioning of the suspect under conditions controlled by the investigator. The goal of an interrogation is to have the suspect provide an admission of facts and a confession of guilt or provide a story the investigator can prove as false.”[1]

In workplace investigations the investigator will conduct an interview, not an interrogation. Employees have a relationship with the employer, and the investigators wants to explore the situation in a manner that respects all the parties in the process and allows each party to maintain their dignity. When starting the investigation process, it is important to remember that not every investigation will have findings of misconduct or wrongdoing.

Interview Steps

Below are the standard steps in an interview. This is simply a suggested template; the investigator may want to adapt and alter the steps in the investigation to suit the situation. Ideally the investigation will begin with interviewing the complainant, after which the investigator may be required to gather additional evidence or information. The next individual to be interviewed is normally the respondent and lastly witnesses.

1) Standard Opening

2) Housekeeping Questions

3) Investigative Questions

4) Interview Closing

5) Review Interview Notes

6) Interviewee signs off on Notes

  1. The Standard Opening. The investigator will deliver a standard opening for the various parties to the investigation, whether it be complainant, respondent, or witness. The opening will review the following:
  • Introduction of parties
  • Rapport building
  • Purpose
  • Establishing ground rules
  • Confidentiality
  • Retaliation

2. Housekeeping Questions. These questions are designed to help the interviewee to become more comfortable and help the person to get talking. They are easily answered and do not require much effort. Housekeeping questions may include questions such as confirming the participant’s name, their job title, and length of time working for the employer.

3. Investigative Questions. These questions tend to be open-ended and are designed to get to the issues. These questions will focus on what the person saw, heard or experienced firsthand. If the interviewee has previously provided a written statement, the investigator may ask for them to “re-tell” what happened and note if there are any variances from an original written statement. It is important for the interviewer to let the person talk and practice good active listening skills (nodding the head, smile, etc.). During this step the investigator may identify further questions or additional information that they want to ask about but will attempt to not interrupt the individual speaking. The investigator should wait until a natural break in the dialogue to ask probing or additional questions that have come to mind.

Listening is of the utmost importance. The investigator must not make assumptions and should ensure that the interviewee provides the required details. If something is missed the investigator can circle back obtain the required information. They should not be afraid to ask an interviewee to repeat something or clarify an answer.

4. Interview Closing. The investigator should close off by asking the interviewee if they have anything else they would like to share, or if they have any questions. They may be surprised what an interviewee will share; it could be something the interviewer completely overlooked. The investigator can then thank the individual for their time and advise them that should additional information be needed they will be contacted for an additional interview or conversation. The interviewee should be provided contact information for the investigator should they want to add anything to the information provided in the interview. The investigator will then advise the interviewee that they will be required to review the notes that the investigator has taken and sign off on their content.

5. Review the Interview Notes. At the end of an interview, the interview notes, whether typed or handwritten, should be shared with the interviewee. The person should be given the opportunity to read over the notes and make any corrections or edits that they feel are required before they sign off that the notes are an accurate description of their responses. The interviewer needs to advise the interviewee that any edits or changes may be noted by the investigator. This protects the original text from variation. If the person reads their statements and then regrets making the statement and wants to change it after the fact the interviewer can allow them to change the statement but note the original text and what the person changed.

6. Interviewee Signs Off on the Notes. The investigator should include the following statement at the bottom of the notes:

“The above X-page statement is given freely and is a true and accurate account of the events regarding the incident I observed. I have read the statement fully prior to signing”

Depending upon the organization’s policies and procedures the investigator may be required to provide a copy of the statement to the interviewee or the union if applicable. Depending upon the organization most investigators will also be required to sign the statement.

More on Interview Notes

An investigator should take notes during the interview; however, it is really up to them how they choose to take notes. Some investigators will use a note pad with removable pages, while others will prefer a bound notebook to reduce any possibility of pages being removed. Some investigators prefer to use a laptop on which they type their notes during the interview. This is ideal for those who can type quickly and accurately.

Whichever method of note taking is used, the investigator needs to capture what the person said, not what the investigator thought that the person said. Notes should be written that the average person should be able to understand what occurred in the investigation. The investigator should try to avoid using their own form of shorthand, using abbreviations or other time-saving shortcuts. It is important that the investigator does not exaggerate or interpret any statements; they are writing out exactly what the interviewee said. It is vital that the investigator NOT put their own impressions, opinions or comments into the notes. The investigator should not have comments in the margin that states their opinion such as “this person is obviously lying” or “cannot trust what this person says.”

An investigator may make “memos to file” which are personal notes as to what was changed by an interviewee. The memo to file does not get signed by the interviewee but is a personal note by the investigator, it may be written in first person or third person.

Complications with electronic notes

Using electronic notes complicates how the interviewee can review and sign off on the notes. When an investigator types their notes on to a laptop, they would then need to print a copy of the notes for the interviewee to sign. This may not be convenient depending upon the location of the interview. An alternative is that the investigator emails the notes to the interviewee, and the interviewee signs off that they agree, however what this means is that a copy of the investigation notes could potentially be altered and/or shared. This may have implications on the confidentiality of what was said in the interview. In the event that an investigator chose to email a copy of the notes, they should set the requirement for the notes to be permanently deleted by the interviewee once they have signed off, and obtain written confirmation from the interviewee that the notes have been permanently deleted and not retained.

The challenge of note-taking

There is of course a downside to either typing or writing notes during an investigation, that is that one can become so focused on writing that they do not listen to the responses and note any observations of the interviewee’s demeanor. We normally tend to note what we think is important at the time which may unintentionally support a bias or preconceived notion. It is important that notes reflect the whole interview, not just bits and pieces that the investigator uses to support a preconceived idea.

Accuracy in notes is important, if the investigator has terrible typing, illegible handwriting or they are particularly slow, this may hamper the interview and reduce the effectiveness of the investigator. If the investigator is concerned that they will not be able to concentrate on the interview while writing notes and do not want to record the interview, they can always have another investigator present to take detailed notes.

It is not uncommon for an interviewee to ask to keep a copy of the notes from their interview. This is dependent upon the organizational policy, procedure or statutory obligations (OH and S investigations for example). As noted above, when sharing notes from an interview there may be confidentiality considerations that need to be taken into account, for instance, how will the notes be stored and secured and kept confidential?

Recording Interviews

As mentioned briefly in the last chapter, an investigator may choose to make an audio recording of the interview, however, the investigator needs to be prepared to share the recording should the parties ask to hear it. Depending upon the policies and procedures of the workplace, a recording may be required to be shared with the individual who is being recorded. In some instances, they may hear the copy of the recording but are not permitted to retain a copy. That being said, it is difficult to maintain control of a recording when shared with witnesses or a party to the investigation, especially if the recording is in digital form. How would the investigator prevent someone from making an additional copy of the recording? As well should the matter proceed to arbitration or court the recording may be subpoenaed.

The employer’s investigative policies and procedures will dictate if a recording is permissible, required or not permitted. If the policy or procedure indicates that all investigative interviews are recorded, then regardless if the interviewee objects, the employer has the right to record the interview. However, if someone is uncomfortable being recorded the investigator may find that the quality of interview is affected. Individuals may not feel comfortable expanding upon their answers or providing details knowing that they are being recorded. Sometimes an interviewee will simply refuse to speak. These issues will be addressed later in this text.

There are benefits and drawbacks to making recordings of interviews. Recording an interview either through audio or video will keep a true and accurate record of what was said, how the party presented themselves and other body language. It also frees up the investigator from focusing on writing to maintain eye contact and more closely observe the interviewee and develop more rapport.

However, recording the investigation also makes for a tense atmosphere and people may not be as open and forthcoming as they would otherwise be. The investigator needs to understand the workplace environment and whether recording the interview will be acceptable or be viewed as heavy handed. Despite the policies, recording of interviews may not be well received and can cause an immediate lack of trust. Consistency is important; if the investigator records one interview, all interviews should be recorded.

There are additional administrative details with regards to audio or video recordings. The investigator will be required to ensure secure storage of the recording, as well as prevent copies of the recording from being released or distributed. The investigator may also be asked if the recording is going to be transcribed. If this is required it can be costly and tedious to do. Any transcription will need to be read and signed off by the interviewee to confirm that it captured accurately what was said.

Regardless of recording an interview or not, an investigator will still need to maintain a written/typed record of the interviewee’s responses.

  1. Alberta Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General 2012, 186


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