One of the most difficult questions faced by any management team is whether, absent a legal, regulatory or statutory duty to do so, its company should commence an internal investigation. The answer is simpler when a law enforcement agency is knocking at the company’s door, when the company receives a request for information to which it is compelled to respond or when it is the subject of a whistleblower or adverse press report. However, it is perhaps far less simple when an investigation is being voluntarily contemplated to assess the general health of the company. What happens if an issue is identified that might otherwise have remained undetected, that leads to significant costs, demands on management time, adverse press and, perhaps worse still, regulatory sanction or criminal prosecution? Might it be better to let sleeping dogs lie?
The question as to whether to undertake a voluntary investigation is one that, for many years, has caused management teams to scratch their collective heads. Given the issues that have affected many companies as a result of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the question is increasingly being raised. As a result of the effects of COVID-19, some companies were rushed into decisions that they might otherwise have spent more time considering, compliance processes were shortened or even overlooked, and employees were afforded more opportunity to take autonomous decisions, often within the less supervised confines of a remote environment. Is 2021 the time to revisit some of the decisions that were made over the past year and to lift up the floorboards?
In this article, we suggest some of the advantages and disadvantages of undertaking a proactive, voluntary internal investigation. We also consider some of the ways in which a company could mitigate those potential disadvantages.