Published on: August 10, 2022
Conducting a fair and thorough interview is one of the most challenging aspects of a workplace investigation. It requires the investigator to not only be prepared in advance of the interview, but also to be able to think on their feet when surprises inevitably arise in the moment. More and more investigators are making use of the P.E.A.C.E interview framework, which stands for:
- Preparation and Planning
- Engage & Explain
- Account, clarify & challenge
The P.E.A.C.E investigative interviewing framework is scientifically-supported and used by professional investigators throughout Canada. It has become the international gold standard. Studies have shown that P.E.A.C.E. trained interviewers are less likely to engage in leading questions or coercive tactics, resulting in better information gathering1. For workplace investigators in particular, failure to properly conduct interviews can have dire consequences. In one case (Shoan v. Canada2), an investigation was found to be procedurally unfair and unreasonable, partially due to the leading questions asked by the investigator during the investigation process. Such a result can be embarrassing and costly for both the investigator and their client. Some important things to keep in mind when questioning a party or a witness are:
- Be aware of the difference between an interview and an interrogation
If you are doing your job correctly, you should find yourself approaching an investigative interview from a place of curiosity, genuinely wanting to know what the party or witness can tell you about the situation. If you are tempted to lead the interview in a particular direction through coercive questioning, this is a sign that you might have prematurely made up your mind, and might be in danger of appearing (or actually being) biased. Investigative interviews should never be about trying to get someone to give you a specific piece of information; rather, they are about making the interviewee feel comfortable enough and confident enough in the process to give you information.
- Avoid non-productive questions
Workplace investigations are not subject to the same strict rules as court proceedings, and accordingly an investigator may get away with a leading question or two. Regardless, investigators should be aware that the best information is obtained through more open-ended questions, and that leading questions could contaminate the witness’ or respondent’s evidence. The P.E.A.C.E framework emphasizes the use of productive questions, those that garner more information and detail, often in a funnel-based sequence favouring open questions, but allowing for less productive question types such as probing (who, what, where, when, why and how), and closed (those that prompt short answer such as yes or no) to help manage the conversation.
- When in doubt, keep quiet
Unlike a litigation process, workplace investigations provide the unique opportunity to circle back with the party or witness at a later time, if you have another question for them. Even though we all want our investigations to be completed as quickly as possible, if you are really unsure if a question should be asked during the interview (for example if you are concerned the question might make you appear biased), consider holding off and giving more thought to the question after the interview. If you ultimately decide the question is an important one, it can be asked later.
2 2016 FC 1003 (CanLII)