By Meric Craig Bloch
From Compliance & Ethics Professional, a publication for SCCE members. Click here for more information.
Investigators face their own ethical issues. Our work generally gives us flexibility, autonomy, self-direction, discretion, and minimal oversight. This gives us the latitude to do our jobs well, but it also creates an opportunity for trouble.
You are responsible for protecting your own ethical health. No investigation is worth risking your integrity and future effectiveness—not to mention your continuing employment—for the sake of determining what exactly happened in a particular case. When you get frustrated, feel unappreciated or misunderstood, or are laboring under a heavy workload, it can be tempting to cut corners and rush to judgment to close the investigation. This temptation rarely comes from poor professional values. The temptation might come from a confidence in “rough justice” so that the implicated person gets what they so richly deserve. Whatever your motivation, resist it. There is almost always a proper way to achieve the same objective. (And if there isn’t a proper way, you can’t do it.) Ethical lapses among investigators result more from laziness, frustration, and a lack of imagination than from the lack of a more-ethical alternative.
The most common ethical lapses for investigators include:
- Violating the privacy of the people involved.
- Disclosing confidential information when it was not essential to do so.
- Using deception as an investigative technique, such as lying or playing with someone’s emotions.
- Coercing people to “roll over” on their colleagues.
- Promising something in exchange for a witness’s cooperation.
These things have no place in a professional workplace investigation. These five examples are instructive because they show how mundane an investigator’s lapses can be. (You don’t see extortion, slander, or false imprisonment among the ones listed.) The point is that it is the little things that will take you beyond ethical boundaries. It also underscores why your professional standards must be kept high. You can avoid problems like the appearance of impropriety by remaining self-aware of your actions and statements. It takes a little more effort to stay on the straight and narrow, but it is worth it in the long run.
As the old saying goes, “A clear conscience makes the softest pillow.” So when your findings lead to someone’s dismissal, you’ll know that the person received a fundamentally fair investigation.
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