CAPTURING A MOMENT N TIME: THE VALUE OF WITNESS STATEMENTS

So you have a disgruntled employee in your ranks; allegations start to fly; and somewhere in the process, that person’s employment is terminated (maybe even voluntarily). What should you do? If nothing else, devote the appropriate level of attention to the allegations, and treat the situation as though it may eventually be the subject of litigation.

In devoting proper attention to the allegations, you’ll want to conduct a thorough investigation. In doing so, one of the most important things you’ll do is obtain statements from witnesses. Although witness statements certainly aren’t the only component of an investigation, they are one of the most important components.

So, at the earliest opportunity, identify key witnesses who have first-hand knowledge of the incident(s) at issue. Meet with those persons and walk them through what happened, asking them questions where appropriate. Then, ask them for written statements (preferably written by them), memorializing what they just told you, and have them sign and date the statements. It’s important to do all of this fairly quickly. Looking ahead, months or years from now, witnesses may not be available; they may not be as friendly (especially if they’ve moved on); and they may not have an accurate recollection, or any recollection, of key facts. In addition, if you feel that the allegations warrant a heightened level of attention, consider having your attorney conduct the investigation.

By taking these steps, you’re laying the foundation of a complete investigation which ultimately will help you to assess the allegations made and determine an appropriate course of action, whether in the form of discipline or mere closure of the investigation. Moreover, you’re memorializing the statements of witnesses, ensuring that key facts won’t simply be forgotten, and making it more difficult for witnesses to change their stories at some point down the road.

Matt Hansberry focuses his practice in the areas of employment litigation and ski-industry defense. Mr. Hansberry has defended companies and management in both federal court and state court cases. He has also defended employers before the West Virginia Human Rights Commission.
 
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