Handling workplace investigations is a serious challenge, but like it or not, investigations are something that the vast majority of employers will have to deal with at some point. Employee complaints that are mishandled can lead to time-consuming and costly litigation. The following is a list of the top mistakes made by employers when conducting workplace investigations, along with suggestions to prevent them.
Not Having a Plan
Employers need to have an established course of action when an employee complaint is received. At the outset of receiving a complaint, employers should choose who will investigate the complaint, what evidence to gather, and which individuals need to be interviewed. Each employee complaint is different, however, defining the precise contours and scope of the investigation will help keep those involved on track and moving toward the end goal as efficiently as possible.
All employee complaints should be taken seriously - even if received from an employee who has a history of complaining. Employers cannot allow bias or preconceived notions about an individual to impede them from responding promptly and properly.
Procrastinating on Starting the Investigation
While conducting workplace investigations may seem like a daunting task, employers must prioritize it at the top of their schedule. Employers have a legal duty to investigate certain claims such as those dealing with discrimination, harassment, safety, etc. Although interviews don’t have to occur immediately, evidence should be collected upon receipt of an employee complaint. The company can then use this information to plan the best attack for carrying out the remainder of the investigation. In many cases, addressing the complaint and responding to fix it quickly can serve as an affirmative defense to claims employees may bring against their employer.
Workplace investigations should not drag out over a long period of time - strive for swift but thorough. An investigation that just hangs over the company without an end in sight is disruptive, lowers morale and worker productivity, and demonstrates to employees that such complaints are not taken seriously enough to follow through with. Additionally, the more time that passes means that memories fade and evidence disappears, making the truth even harder to discern.
On the other hand, an investigation that is cursory and inadequate can also lead to trouble. Employers need sufficient time to collect the evidence and hear from witnesses before being able to come to an accurate, objective conclusion regarding the incident. Documentation is key in this regard - all factual findings should be documented throughout the investigation and kept in a separate investigation file. If the incident escalates to litigation, employers will need to show how they reached their conclusion.
Not Following Up After the Investigation
After coming to a conclusion about whether or not misconduct has occurred, employers need to inform workers that the complaint was looked into and action was taken. Even if no specifics are mentioned because of confidentiality, this communication with employees will foster a sense of trust and send the message that all employee complaints are taken seriously.
The most cautious employers will still make mistakes during workplace investigations, however, every investigation should be used as a learning tool to uncover potential areas of improvement for the next investigation and fill gaps in any workplace policies or procedures which are missing.
This article is presented by the Dallas employment lawyers at Clouse Dunn LLP. To speak to an employment attorney about a workplace issue, send an email to [email protected] or call (214) 239-2705.
About Keith Clouse / Dallas Employment Lawyer Keith Clouse
Keith Clouse is a Texas employment law specialist with over 25 years of experience representing senior executives, business owners, physicians, and corporations in complex employment litigation, arbitration and negotiations. Senior executives, physicians and other professionals consistently rely on Mr. Clouse for employment law expertise and advice on employment contracts, covenants not to compete, severance agreements, trade secret disputes, breach of fiduciary duty claims, and claims based on workplace discrimination, retaliation, and harassment. Source CDKLawyers.com
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