During CAI’s 2012 Employment and Labor Law Update, attorney Bob Sar from the Ogletree Deakins law firm recommended several best practices for conducting successful workplace investigations. To minimize retaliation risks from related investigations, Bob lists three actions that organizations can take to protect themselves:
- Establish a strong anti-retaliation policy
- Develop a standard interview process
- Document employee performance regularly
Bob shared with conference participants the four ultimate goals of a workplace investigation:
- To determine if a problem exists
- To protect the company
- To provide an opportunity to demonstrate fairness
- To encourage internal dispute resolution and reporting of problems
Employers should investigate all employee complaints, even if the complaining employee doesn’t want an investigation started. Bob advises employers to also investigate off-the-record complaints and never promise employees absolute confidentiality during the course of an investigation.
Once you have cause to investigate a workplace complaint, follow these three steps to start an effective investigation:
1. Determine if it’s necessary to implement immediate action on parties currently involved or soon-to-be involved.
- Examples include suspension, separating employees, sending a status report to company leaders.
2. Select the best candidate to be the investigator.
- Consider the following factors when choosing an appropriate candidate: how is his or her demeanor? Is this person empathetic? Does gender matter in regard to the complaint? Can he or she be impartial?
3. Review all documentation related to the complaining employee, the accuser and the actual complaint.
- Consistent documentation is key for an effective investigation. Collect information from several sources, including employee personnel files, company policies and handbooks, and past complaint files. Reviewing emails and electronic files are helpful to the investigation as well.
Once you’ve selected your investigator, alerted people who should know about the investigation and collected necessary documents, you can proceed with employee interviews with the victim, the accused and witnesses to determine the outcome of the complaint.
For additional information and tips for conducting workplace investigations, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.
Photo Source: Nina Matthews Photography