Investigative etiquette is not something an employee will find in the company policy manual. Whether you’ve reported the alleged wrongdoing of a co-worker, are embroiled in controversy with a higher-up, or have blown the whistle on possible criminal activity, knowing the dos and don’ts of appropriate conduct may help you traverse the long and winding road ahead.
First and foremost, stay calm! Reporting wrongdoing is stressful. Besides having concern that the investigative authorities may not take the report seriously, you may feel alone and frustrated. Don’t panic, there is good news. The fraud investigation process can provide an important lesson that your institution is ethically-minded. For me, the experience was critical in regaining trust in my organization. In my case the investigators responded promptly to my concerns and reached out to make sure that I was treated fairly.
Second, be reasonable. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. The feeling of outrage may be hard to contain. Resist the temptation to become angry, accusatory, or to speculate. Maybe you’ve heard some rumors that you think might be helpful. Definitely tell the investigators what you’ve heard, but realize that rumors aren’t facts and that they may not be true. And finally, beware of the normal desire for instant gratification! Unlike television shows where the case is solved in one hour, the real-life path to justice can be painfully slow. While you wait for the investigation process to be completed, refocus your energy on being productive at work.
Third, be open and honest. As a reporter, your credibility is as essential to the case as the information you provide. Answer questions as openly as possible. Be sure to communicate promptly any concerns you have about your safety. If you believe you are a target of retaliation, document the activity in writing to the investigative contact person. Do not, for any reason, respond in kind.
Fourth, stay the course. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself being under scrutiny. In my case, the alleged fraudster blew the whistle on me claiming that I’d misused government funds. Initially shocked by the turn of the tables, I regained my composure by providing documentation that the allegations were untrue. In the end, you may be judged by how well you behaved during the investigation.
And fifth, keep communications open. You’ve played a significant role in the investigation by providing critical information. Congratulate yourself and let the experts do their job. If you find additional information, contact the investigators. Don’t try to collect the evidence yourself. For those who used the Hotline, keep in contact with the hotline service using their reporting instructions. Be sure to communicate any concerns regarding your identity or your safety. The hotline is there to support you.
These tips may seem easy to those who’ve never been on the hot seat. Being calm, reasonable, open, and honest during an investigative process can be rewarding. Remember your primary goal is to help your organization. To that end, this may be the most unforgettable journey of your life, so “take the high road.”
Amy Block Joy is a Faculty/Specialist Emeritus from the University of California. In 2006, she blew the whistle on $2.3 million in federal fraud. Her “Lessons Learned” blog series relates her insights as a whistleblower and what happened as a result. You can read more on her website at www.amyblockjoy.com.