“Hi! I Just Have A Few Questions For You!”

Most employees that have been with a Company for a reasonable period of time, will at one time or another encounter an interview with HR during a workplace investigation. This interview can be prompted by an employee’s own complaint or based on the complaint of another employee. At times the interview may be conducted by a third party licensed investigation firm, a state or federal agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or by an attorney hired by the Company. Regardless of who initiates the workplace investigation which leads to the interview, it is important to know how to navigate through the interview to avoid common pitfalls, such as talking too much, providing inaccurate information or unintentionally exposing yourself to policy violations. Here are a few tips on how to get through a workplace investigation interview:

1. Be courteous, professional and honest.
Engaging with an investigator or HR representative in an abrupt, defiant or unprofessional manner will only make the experience more unpleasant than it has to be. Additionally, such behavior may subject the employee to verbal or written discipline for insubordination or other violations regarding workplace misconduct. If the interview is being conducted by a state or federal agency, certain conduct may be perceived as obstruction and could result in penalties and fines (usually when the interviewee is an Officer or Director of the Company). Be honest – providing false information may be a violation of a Company’s ethical code of conduct and typically will be discovered to be false as the investigation continues, besides that it just isn’t right.

It is important for employees to keep in mind that the interviewer is there to do his or her job – make it easy for both parties and treat each other with mutual respect and courtesy.

2. Do not talk too much.
A common mistake that employees make is providing more information than a question elicits. For example, if an interviewer asks “What time did you clock in on Monday?” An appropriate response is “I clocked in at or around 8:20 a.m.” There is no need to provide information in excess of what is required to sufficiently answer the question. An example of an “overly wordy” response is “Gosh, I jammed through the parking lot... going about 40mph and I was still 20 minutes late when I clocked in at 8:20 a.m.” In the latter example, the employee just told the interviewer who may be an HR representative about two likely policy violations (that the interviewer would not have otherwise known) – one for tardiness (that may be unexcused) and the other for excessive speed on company property.

An interviewer is not entitled to an employee’s life story – so an employee need not give it! The faster the questions are answered, typically the quicker the interview will be over.

3. Tell the interviewer what you know.
It’s best to answer questions truthfully, which may result in an answer of “I don’t know.” There is nothing wrong with an employee informing the interviewer that he or she does not know the answer to a question or that he or she forgot. No one has a perfect memory, so it may be permissible for the employee to be excused or to follow up with the interviewer after the interview has concluded to review an email or other documents to refresh his or her recollection of events. Answers should never be “made up” or based on an unreasonable guess. However, in some circumstances a best guess is appropriate, such as when asked about distance or weight of an item.

No one can force an employee to remember something or require an informative answer to a question, therefore if an employee doesn’t know the answer to a question it must be accepted as just that.
Participation in a workplace investigation may not be welcomed or comfortable, but the law provides certain protections against unlawful harassment, discrimination and retaliation for employees that participate in an investigation. For more information regarding laws and regulations governing workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation visit eeoc.gov.