Kusserow on Compliance: Successful investigation interviews require proper preparation

Proper preparation is the number one factor for a successful interview. Do not rush into an interview until you are fully prepared. It is important to examine and understand all the facts known that relate to the matter under investigation. It is also critical to understand what information is needed to advance the investigation and to determine what the person being interviewed can contribute to this. The following tips will help ensure best results:

  1. Develop an investigation plan. Before any interviews, it is important to (a) set investigative priorities/objectives; (b) review what is known; (c) obtain needed documents; and (d) identify those people that should be interviewed, in what order.

 

  1. Master the known facts of the case. Review all the available facts and evidence; and decide what you need from witnesses to prove the offense or fill gaps.

 

  1. Properly prepare for each interview. A successful interview includes knowing who should be interview, their background, what information they may have to advance the investigation, and what documents are relevant to their interview.

 

  1. Develop an outline for each interview of the points to be covered in a logical manner. It should be in an abbreviated form, serving as a road map to keep things on track by addressing different topics to be covered. However, rigid adherence to an outline or detailed questions is not advisable, as it will tend to distract the interviewer from carefully listening to the witness’s answers and generating useful follow up questions.

 

  1. Schedule interviews as quickly as possible. Interviews of witnesses should be scheduled in a logical order to build a case, as soon as possible, before memory fades or is influenced by events.

 

  1. Have relevant material on hand during the interview. Have only documents present that are relevant to the interview. As appropriate, show the witness the relevant documents and let him or her review them before answering. It may assist in refreshing memory of events.

 

  1. Use copies of original documents for interviews. As a rule, it is best to keep original evidence secured in a controlled access location. Using copies will ensure that original ones are not lost or compromised.

 

  1. Take care in selecting the location and setting for the interview. Schedule interviews away from the persons work station or office. The setting for the interview should be in a place where it cannot be overheard or where there are distractions in sight and sound. As such, the person should not be near a window. It is also advisable to avoid barriers with the interviewee, such as table and desks, that may be viewed as overly formal and threatening.

 

  1. Allow adequate time for the interview to be conducted in an appropriate environment. Most interviews in complex cases take much longer than the witness anticipates. Conduct the interview in a professional environment; do not attempt to interview an important witness at lunch or in another social setting.

 

  1. Review policy regarding rights of employees during an investigation. Check with HR before conducting employee interviews to determine if employees who decline to cooperate could/would be considered insubordinate, as well as whether employee rights exist that may restrict interviews. For example, members of unions may have the right to be present and to take independent notes and/or record the meeting.

Richard Kusserow has over 40 years investigative experience including eleven years as HHS Inspector General and twelve years with the FBI. He authored “Conducting Internal Investigations in Health Care Organizations (ISBN 979-1-936230-60-8). His firm provides investigator training for clients.

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Copyright © 2019 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: First steps in conducting witness interviews

Witnesses are key to most investigations and are most often neutral third-parties from whom information is desired. Obtaining useful information and cooperation from witnesses is a critical part of any successful investigation and nothing can derail that faster than not properly engaging the witness from the outset. The following are tips regarding the proper protocols to initiating witness interviews:

  1. Identify self and any others participating in the interview
  2. State the reason for the interview
  3. Explain your authority to conduct the inquiry
  4. Explain why they were selected to be interviewed
  5. Remind the witness of their duty to provide complete and accurate facts
  6. Politely ask for their cooperation
  7. Remind them that they will be protected against any retaliation
  8. Clarify that the interview is voluntary and can be ended at any time
  9. Explain that it is important they be open and candid
  10. Note their comments will be confidential to only those with a need to know
  11. Request them, in return, to keep the interview confidential (“street runs both ways”)
  12. Before questioning, ask if they have any questions
  13. Work to establish rapport and to relax the interviewee
  14. Before substantive questioning, ask simple ones about their duties, who they report to, etc.

 

Richard Kusserow has over 40 years investigative experience including eleven years as HHS Inspector General and twelve years with the FBI. He authored “Conducting Internal Investigations in Health Care Organizations (ISBN 979-1-936230-60-8). His firm provides investigator training for clients.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

Copyright © 2019 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: Preparing for compliance investigations

Most compliance officers are not professionally trained investigators and are unsure how to decide whether an issue warrants a formal investigation. Also, the great majority of issues presented to compliance officers can be resolved relatively easily without need of an investigation.  However, when situations arise warranting an investigation, it is important to know what needs to be done and how. At every step in an investigation, there are rules that must be followed regarding how things must be done—working with other internal or external parties, determining how to manage the records of investigations, and so on. It is important for anyone who may be called upon to investigate, to take time to learn some of the fundamentals of the process. The first step for any investigation is taking time to analyze all known facts upon receipt of a complaint, allegation, or information suggesting a potential wrongdoing. After this, the next step is to decide upon a course of action, such as:

  1. Closing the matter without the need of further action
  2. Having enough information to take adverse or corrective action on the issue
  3. Need to investigate to clarify issues
  4. Referring the matter to legal counsel
  5. Disclosing a violation to a duly authorized governmental authority

The following should be considered when the decision is to investigate:

  • Knowing who the deciding authority is and what they will need to make a decision
  • Development of the investigative plan
  • Establishing the scope of the investigation
  • Who is the person best qualified to conduct the investigation?
  • Whether the investigation should be under direction of legal counsel

Time is a major enemy and is a force with which to contend in any internal investigation. There is a lot involved in even a simple investigation.  It includes two key elements: documentary evidence and conducting interviews. Knowing what documents are needed is important but knowing how to properly conduct interviews requires some training and skill to produce optimum results and reduce the risks of losing valuable information and time. Writing reports of interviews and the final Investigations Report is also very important. There is both a right and wrong way to do these things.

Conducting successful compliance investigations requires professional competence and friendly persuasion, not upon the authority and power of a government agency backed by the courts. One of the most common and costly mistakes is for individual to conduct investigations without having proper training and experience. It is advisable to engage an expert to teach basic investigation fundamentals on how to: (a) conduct interviews, (b) gather evidence, and  (c) file and store documents and evidence. A few hours of training will not create a professional investigator but may provide enough guidance to ensure that proper steps are followed to avoid costly mistakes. It is also advisable to have protocols in place and in advance of being confronted with an investigation to provide guidance on how to proceed.

 

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on LinkedIn.

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Copyright © 2019 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: Exit interviews as a compliance communication channel

Tom Herrmann, JD, had served in a senior capacity with the Office of Counsel to the Inspector General (OIG) at HHS. He pointed out that the OIG, in its compliance guidance, calls for the development of effective lines of communication with employees as very important to the successful implementation of a compliance program and the reduction of any potential for fraud, abuse and waste. This include implementation and use of hotlines (including anonymous hotlines), e-mails, written memoranda, newsletters, and other forms of information exchange to maintain these open lines of communication. One significant channel of communication is the use of exit interviews to debrief departing employees prior to their departure. A major factor influencing the advancement of exit interviews in connection with compliance programs has been the rise in the number of “whistleblowers.” Most of these come from people reporting on an organization they had recently left.  As such, there is great value in debriefing those departing the job that includes asking question about any observed violations of law, regulation, Code of Conduct, or policies. Optimally, an exit interview process should be done in time to permit possible remedial actions before they leave employment.  He has found that exit interviews can also be useful in avoiding other costly litigation involving unlawful harassment, discrimination, safety violations, etc.  It is very important to keep a record of the interviews conducted and responses.

Carrie Kusserow has been developing, enhancing and monitoring exit interview programs for over 15 years. She noted that many organizations conduct employee exit interviews (also called exit surveys) to gather data for improving working conditions and retaining employees. This has been common in human resource management for generations and this type of communication can be useful in taking actions to correct deficiencies, reduce turnover, identify potential compliance-related problems, and maintain a productive work environment. However, exit interviews may also be used to alert an organization to company compliance issues, potential whistle-blowers, or quality of care issues. At a minimum, an exit interview should include compliance program oriented questions that relate to compliance education, policies, anonymous reporting procedures, and attitudes towards the compliance program. The following are examples:

  1. How effective was your training on the compliance program, Code of Conduct and policies?
  2. Were you trained on how to report concern and problems confidentially or anonymously?
  3. Did you believe that those reporting compliance issues would be protected from retaliation?
  4. Are you aware of any ethical or compliance issues; and if so did you report them?
  5. How could the company strengthen its message regarding ethics and compliance?
  6. Is everyone in the work force treated fairly?
  7. Do you believe management fully supports the compliance program?
  8. Are you leaving due to any compliance concerns about your job or work environment?
  9. Are you aware of any improper or illegal conduct in the workplace? If so, who and what?
  10. Have you reported compliance issues or concerns that are unaddressed? If so, explain.

 

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

Copyright © 2018 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.