Types of Investigation Evidence: Physical, Documentation and Testimony

Workplace investigations inevitably involve evidence. Through the process of exploring an issue, the investigator may uncover or create evidence that forms a critical link between the investigation and the ultimate outcomes. The three types of evidence include:

  1. Physical
  2. Documentation
  3. Testimonial

It’s important to note that each of these types of evidence are collected and managed in different ways. Each example below tells a true story of a time evidence was collected and illustrates the variety of ways that it can be discovered or captured.

PHYSICAL EVIDENCE

The supervisor had warned me, and the drug screen result said it all. Pretty much every box was checked on the little tab, but I still took care to secure it in the presence of the employee and a witness before placing it in the special sealed bag to go to the medical review officer for verification.

This is possibly the most simple type of evidence to safeguard, assuming it can be locked up or protected physically. In the example above, the drug screen was placed in a specially sealed container that could only be opened by an authorized individual. However, physical evidence can encompass anything from stolen merchandise in retail to a handgun found in someone’s locker.

It’s important to use photos, video and witnesses appropriately to verify the location, time and other details surrounding the discovery and collection of physical evidence. There’s nothing worse than finding evidence and failing to document it properly, rendering it potentially useless if tampering is suspected. Following that discovery, protecting the evidence with a clear chain of custody by a responsible party is critical to ensuring it is not subject to interference or destruction.

DOCUMENTATION EVIDENCE

Sure enough, there it was. I checked the clock in/clock out report and there was a major discrepancy. Apparently the employee had been lying about his work hours for the two months that the record showed. On average, he was being paid for 8 hours a day while only being physically on site for 6 to 6.5 hours daily. I pulled together the report from the security office and put it in my briefcase. It was time to start another termination letter.

Collecting documentation can often be difficult if you don’t intuitively know where to find the information. For instance, if an employee is being accused of misbehavior but there is a training record that shows she was present elsewhere during the alleged activity, that documentation would support the employee’s innocence. In the example above, HR always knew that the security officer kept digital and physical records of employee badge in/out times in order to audit security logs. This can be a powerful piece of evidence because it helps to objectively tell a story, unlike some witness statements that may have an agenda behind them.

Storing and handling this kind of evidence, especially when it’s digital, can be challenging. The most common place people save information is to their own computer, but hard drives can fail and aren’t set up for sharing with the appropriate stakeholders. Likewise, shared drives can be difficult because the permissions aren’t always clear. For instance, the IT administrator normally has access to those files, which could be challenging if that’s the person that is being investigated in the first place.

TESTIMONIAL EVIDENCE

The story slowly unfolded upon receiving the testimonies of half a dozen workers, including the supervisor. Apparently, in the middle of the night one of our employees became agitated about one of her peers and began following her around and harassing her. The weirdest part? She allegedly put a “voodoo curse” on the poor pregnant woman and her unborn child.

Collecting testimonial evidence has been covered very well here on the blog, both in questions for complainants and questions for witnesses. As mentioned previously, one of the challenges with testimony as evidence is it can be less objective than some other types. However, it’s possible to get deeper insights and possibly corroborate finer details with interviews than it would be with a static piece of evidence, such as a log entry or photograph.

Any information collected in the form of testimonies should be protected, whether in digital or physical form. This is a common theme for any data you’re collecting in the interview process, which is why it really helps to have an investigation management application in place to help keep things centralized, provide a workflow and manage permissions to the data as appropriate.

Evidence is one of the most critical parts of any investigation, regardless of the form it takes. It’s import to be sure to not only collect all available evidence, wherever it may reside, but also to protect and leverage that evidence to support the investigation and guide any necessary outcomes.

Ben Eubanks
Ben Eubanks

Ben Eubanks is the Principal Analyst at Lighthouse Research. He also founded upstartHR.com and hosts We're Only Human, a podcast focused on the intersection of people and technology in the workplace.