Workplace investigations, if not handled properly, can snowball into larger lawsuits. These lawsuits can come in two forms – from the employee who complained of inappropriate workplace conduct or from an employee accused of workplace conduct. When an allegation of workplace misconduct occurs, the employer is responsible for investigating the allegation and taking appropriate remedial action. There are 4 ways that a workplace investigation can lead to a lawsuit, costing your company significant amounts of time and money.
Wrong or Unqualified Investigator
Any time an internal investigator has a possible conflict, any prior or personal relationship with any of the parties or key witnesses, or is in the chain of command, this could render the investigation improper. Further, an investigator who lacks requisite knowledge of laws or requirements places the employer’s investigation at risk.
It’s important to ensure the investigation is thorough and complete. Failing to interview witnesses or to request and obtain documents and fully analyze the facts can all lead to an incomplete investigation. If the investigation is incomplete, it could lead to an improper conclusion. That witness that was missed could have changed the course of the investigation, could have proved the alleged action never occurred and could have led to different remedial action.
At the outset of an investigation, you will want to create a game plan that ensures nothing gets missed. Imagine if you terminate an employee but didn’t interview his/her key witness. You could be facing a lawsuit for wrongful termination and have an uphill battle against you.
Investigations that occur too late can also spell trouble. The timeframe for conducting a workplace investigation depends on the nature of the complaint. If there is a serious incident, or one that involves the threat of violence, investigations should be conducted as soon as possible. Frankly, all investigations should be conducted promptly but the more serious the allegation, the faster you should move.
Be cautious though – you still need to be sure you have a plan in place to prevent incomplete or biased investigations. Take the time to create the plan before haphazardly starting an investigation. An investigation should be timely, thorough and unbiased – don’t sacrifice one for the other or you may still end up dealing with costly litigation.
This may seem obvious but it happens. If an allegation occurs, you should conduct a workplace investigation. Don’t summarily dismiss an allegation or summarily accept an allegation. Doing so will likely lead to a lawsuit and you won’t have the facts to back up your decision.
When you receive a workplace complaint, make sure you conduct a timely, unbiased and complete investigation. Not sure how to create a plan to accomplish that? Give us a call for your consultation.