One of the most troubling situations in large and small workplaces is when an employee or several employees, together or separately, choose to engage in theft, drug use or other illegal activity. Such actions not only result in actual or potential material damage to the company, they also impede safety and security, contribute to the creation of an unsafe and unacceptable workplace environment, and may traumatize and demoralize other employees, thereby exposing the company to operational losses and potential legal liability.
One of the most effective ways to detect and deal with such situations is through the placement of an undercover investigator inside the affected workplace. This is a method that offers several advantages but may also create additional challenges to the employer and employees. It is essential to understand what is involved in undercover investigations and how to maximize their benefit while minimizing their negative potential.
Undercover investigators can provide a valuable service in the following situations (partial list):
- Employee Drug Use
- Industrial Espionage
- Cyber Security Breaches
- Product Theft
- Sexual Harassment
- Workplace Bullying
- Shipping/Receiving Fraud
- Internal/External Bribes
- Workplace Safety Violations
- Safety and Security Compliance Issues
- Workplace Policies Violations
- Workplace Productivity Issues
Key Potential Benefits of Undercover Investigations:
- Direct, Court-Admissible, First-Hand Evidence: Undercover workplace investigations bring investigators into direct contact with alleged offenders and witnesses. Such activity can produce court-admissible evidence, and if/when necessary, undercover investigators can testify in court.
- Relatively Rapid Results: Depending on the type of operation and the kind of evidence required, an undercover operation can provide usable results in short order.
- Cost Effective: The ability to produce rapid results can reduce the length of an investigation, making it a cost-effective investigative tool, while enabling management to take remedial, corrective action as fast as possible.
- Focused Results: A clear definition of the type of investigation required enables undercover operatives to focus on the specific issue(s) at hand. This can save resources, and avoid potential legal complications.
Challenges of Undercover Investigations
- Inexperienced or Unprofessional Investigator/Investigation: Undercover investigations are a sensitive operation requiring unique knowledge, experience, ethical and moral strength, and the ability to make on-the-spot decisions. In the hands of less than total professionals, such operations can result in legal complications, harm to employees and disruption or damage to operations.
- Unfocused Investigation: An unfocused investigation may be a wasteful proposition resulting in more damage than help. This could occur by misusing resources, focusing on the wrong targets, potentially demoralizing employees, injecting an unnecessary sense of fear and suspicion into the workplace and antagonizing otherwise blameless employees.
Undercover Workplace Investigation Process
The Undercover Workplace Investigation Process usually includes the following steps:
- Initial Briefing: The lead undercover investigator briefs management and coordinates operational steps, ensuring absolute discretion. Ideally, very few people within the organization should be aware of the pending undercover operation, and they should have access to and be ready to provide all the operationally required information/data.
- Strategic and Tactical Planning: The lead undercover investigator presents the client with a detailed plan, including strategy, tactics, timeline, alternatives and possible outcomes. Both parties must agree on the target(s) of the investigation and objectives.
- Launch of Operation: Having agreed on a plan, the assigned undercover investigator starts working at the selected location.
- Periodic Reporting and Analysis: The undercover investigator provides daily operational reports which are used to brief the client on events and their meaning and impact on the investigation.
- Submission of Final Report: When the client or the lead undercover investigator thinks that the goals of the operation are achieved, a final report is prepared and submitted. This report should include timeline, actions taken, results and all collected evidence.
- Recommendations for Corrective Action: The lead undercover investigator presents the client with a recommendation for additional activities that may be needed in the aftermath (e.g., referral to law enforcement), and of activities that may help mitigate against recurrence.
- Monitoring of Post-Operation Impact: It is recommended that a post-operative debrief and review take place after the conclusion of the operation in order to monitor the impact of the operation on employees and operations.
Case Study – Undercover Investigation
Removing Street Drugs from a Large Hospital
A large hospital approached TAL Global to help with perceived street drug issues. It was not clear whether the drug related activity was employee-related or included non-employees.
In close collaboration and investigation with the hospital management, TAL Global established undercover surveillance of the facility by introducing an undercover operative disguised as a maintenance person.
The investigation resulted in the identification of eight hospital employees who were involved in drug use and sales within the facility.
Furthermore, it was established that the employee’s drug related activities had a direct negative impact on the safety and security of both staff and patients.
The identified employees were removed from the facility, and the findings also provided support to management in improving on-site physical security and staff education.
While it is clear that undercover workplace investigations are an excellent tool for dealing with a wide spectrum of workplace challenges, it is also clear that this is the kind of service that must be performed only by consummate professionals. This is why a potential client should insist on learning about the record and provable capabilities of the service provider.
Contact us to learn more about our corporate investigative services.