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To Record or Not to Record: Part 2

In this column we will attempt to set the stage for how one might deal with organizational resistance to recording employee interviews. We asked for feedback from a number of loss prevention executives who have had experience with selling the idea of recording investigative interviews of employees suspected of dishonesty to their companies. We wanted to hear what their experiences had been in dealing with their investigators, legal, human resources, and operations partners.

Feedback from LP Executives

One concern voiced was that a recording would be used to “clobber” the interviewer. What if the defense or plaintiff obtained a copy? Some were worried about showing the suspected employee dignity and respect. Some in the legal department “raised their eyebrows,” seemingly searching for a way to say no.

However, others in the legal department simply liked the idea. One senior executive of loss prevention decided that the best way to begin the sales pitch was to derail objections by seeking an independent legal opinion, which handled the issue in a well-written legal brief. This almost immediately swayed the legal department since the research had already been done and was presented in a familiar format. The recording would be the best evidence of what went on during the conversation since it included the context of the conversation, word choices, and tone of the participants. The listener could essentially be a fly on the wall listening to the investigative interview from its onset to conclusion, even being privy to the context in which an admission was made.

At the heart of the discussion, all the parties recognized the problems associated with employee interviews and the legal ramifications that can sprout from them. Without a recording, decisions were based on the investigator, his report, and potentially a company witness versus the employee who alleged mistreatment or misconduct on the part of the investigator. This became even more difficult in situations where the interviewer, for one reason or another, did not have a witness present during the conversation.

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One senior loss prevention executive said that it was not unusual for his organization to receive an employee complaint about an interview every other month. These types of complaints required a follow-up investigation, which took time from the investigator associated with the incident, his supervisor, a senior loss prevention executive, legal, and human resources. This became a massive effort by all involved to resolve complaints. In some instances, the situation was complicated even further by the former employee retaining legal representation. After beginning to use recordings of the interviews, opposing counsel were given access to the recorded interviews and were never heard from again.

In another instance, a former employee alleged he was “abused by the interviewer” and “endured thirty-six minutes of hell.” After legal and human resources representatives listened to the conversation, the lawyer from the legal department said, “That’s it? Thirty-six minutes of hell?” The complaint was easily dealt with after listening to the recording. This incident caused senior management to see things a little differently and question the impact on the investigator who was wrongly accused by a former employee. Was the organization treating that investigator with the dignity and respect that he was owed in the situation?

Another objection in opposition to recording was that it focused on the suspected employee and proving his guilt, thus the organization was not being sensitive to him. This statement was handled just as a salesman would handle a sales objection—agreeing with the statement but turning it around offering that both the recorded employee and the investigator were being protected since neither could be abused by the other.

There was some pushback by loss prevention investigators who had never been recorded before. Some of these individuals had their own way of doing interviews that didn’t necessarily correspond to the approach preferred by the loss prevention department. In general, newer investigators had less difficulty with recordings since they were not set in their way of interviewing and could easily adopt new strategies.

LP Solutions

Implementing a New Process

Each of the loss prevention executives followed a similar pathway to institute the recording process. First, they approached legal and human resources to partner with them as they began to institute the program. Helping both legal and human resources understand the interview process and the effectiveness of recording proved helpful in the long-term acceptance of the program. Some of the executives had human resources attend the interview training, so they would have a crucial understanding of the interview process and how it was to be applied to the investigative interview. Interestingly, human resources representatives began to embrace the training since they themselves are often dealing with investigative interviews.

Second, the executives selected a training program on interviewing that embraced the effective non-confrontational approach, which assured the dignity and respect of the suspected employee. From this training they were able to establish standards and interview practices that could be uniformly applied to all investigators conducting employee interviews.

Third, the executives trained in the selected interview strategies, branding them as the benchmark against which interviewers would be measured. This portion of the strategy introduced subsequent audits of the recorded interviews to assure that the interview training was actually being implemented by all investigators. The problem with any training program is the monitoring and measuring component that assures the training is being used and understood. Without an audit component, the interviewer would not receive feedback on his or her efforts, and management could not measure whether the training was being reliably used.

Fourth, the executives instituted an audit program where each interviewer was periodically reviewed for adherence to the selected training program. Those investigators who were not achieving the standards set for interviews were either retrained, counseled, scheduled for further reviews, or in egregious circumstances discharged.

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Fifth, the interviews were examined to determine if there were generalized difficulties with the concepts presented during the actual training. This review allowed the organization to focus specifically on problem areas generalized across the company’s investigators. In future training, the program could be modified to retrain or enhance investigators’ understanding in these areas of weakness.

Sixth, specific company personnel were trained to audit the interviews and provide feedback to the investigators relating to the standardized approaches. Using specifically trained auditors allowed the organization to provide a standardized feedback to all the investigators. To a large extent this prevented any of the auditors from moving away from the standardized training materials to their own personal interview preferences. One executive pointed to a reduction of litigation resulting from the investigative interview to almost zero after the program was instituted.

Positives Outweigh the Negatives

Other reported benefits were varied. One executive said fewer employees were being returned to their assignments after making admissions to policy violations. Human resources was able to listen to the interviews and make judgments on whether or not associates would be terminated for policy violations based on the individuals’ own words. Human resources was not biased by what the investigator said were admissions, but rather were able to make determinations on the recorded interviews alone.

Another benefit was related to dealing with risk management. A review of an interview could quickly counter allegations of misconduct or, if necessary, begin negotiations before the problem escalated to a costly legal battle. In essence, the recordings decreased costs and made risk assessment a much easier and more reliable endeavor.

In telephone interviews, the recordings made managing the investigative case file much easier since obtaining written statements and identification of other documents is difficult during a phone conversation. The recordings provided documentation for the case files of any subject admissions or total confessions to incidences under investigation. The recording could then be saved in the organization’s case management system or, in some cases, on a standalone server.

The executives we spoke with said the positives far outweighed the negatives in their opinions. They felt that the recordings made the investigator a better interviewer who was more thorough when doing an interview. In addition, they could say their interviewers were treating employees with the dignity and respect the organization wanted while at the same time protecting the investigators from false allegations of disgruntled employees.

The costs associated with recording employee interviews have also dropped significantly. It is not a large capital expense to begin to record investigative interviews since laptops and smart phones are readily available to investigators. There are some costs associated with training, monitoring and measuring the interview process, and storing the interviews, but the costs of doing nothing far outweigh the hope that everything is just fine.

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