Internal Investigations During the Age of Covid-19

Internal Investigations During the Age of Covid-19

Internal investigations are crucial to ensure employees and executives alike are held accountable for wrongdoing. These formal inquiries into conduct are used to determine whether laws or internal policies have been violated. Internal investigations are one of the many areas in which adaptation to the realities of the Covid era has been necessary.

5 Ways Internal Investigations are changing during Covid-19

Internal investigations can have individual ramifications, such as the firing of an employee, or larger ones like finding a company in violation of a law or regulation. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, internal investigations must continue. Below are ways for companies to adapt internal investigation practices to the new normal of our times.

Increased Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is now the cornerstone of successful business continuity, not only protecting against malware attacks and viruses, but ensuring employees use the company’s computer system safely. With Covid-19 emerging in March, millions of employees were sent home to work. In June, Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom reported that 42% of the U.S. workforce worked remotely.

Almost overnight, the traditional infrastructure of companies’ cybersecurity systems was challenged as never been before. In August, the FBI reported that its Cyber Division received up to 4000 cyberattack complaints a day, a 400% increase from pre-Covid times. With internal investigations now conducted mainly online, companies must ramp up cybersecurity systems to ensure data is not compromised.

Privilege Concerns

The law of privilege grants clients the right to communicate with their lawyers in confidence without that communication being disclosed to third parties over the course of litigation. With internal investigations, the law of privilege remains the same. However, there are additional considerations during times of remote working and online communications. Lawyers must bear in mind that emails between themselves and clients should be treated as confidential and should not be forwarded without discretion. If this happens, the privilege will be lost. Additionally, the laws of privilege differ by country, so investigating lawyers should also consult local lawyers.

Remote Interview Practices

During internal investigations, employees in question are usually interviewed as part of the formal process. Since many are working from home, these interviews can be conducted remotely, minimizing contact and the chance for virus transmission. However, investigators may not know if someone is coaching the employee, if the room is secure, or if the employee is communicating with someone electronically. At this point, benefits outweigh the risks, but investigators should try to confirm there is no coaching and that the interview is not being recorded.

Document Gathering

An important part of an internal investigation is the gathering of documents. With many employees working from home, it may be difficult to gain access to hard copies. In these cases, documents can be scanned and uploaded while remaining secure. Electronic data may be easier to transfer but can be harder to locate with so many different devices in use.

Long-term, companies must maintain documents securely online so they can be accessed. The solution may include extra training on data management, confidentiality, and preservation.

Shifting and Static Regulations

Covid-19 has forced companies to adjust internal operations. At the same time, regulating bodies and law enforcement have also adapted. A major change is the shift of operations from in-person to the digital realm, with questions regarding the fairness of digital hearings. While many regulators uphold that digital hearings are valid, it is important for companies to understand the changes that investigations and enforcement have undergone, help them conduct investigations according to the new framework.

However, some standards have not changed. The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) has made it clear that companies must continue to meet compliance standards despite remote working. 

Adaptation is Key

Covid-19 has forced sudden changes in the business landscape, including internal investigations. Many experts agree that these changes are not temporary, but rather, long-term. For this reason, it is important for companies to adapt as quickly and efficiently as possible to ensure successful operations now and in the future.