The Need to Investigate Employee Complaints
An employee brings to HR or their manager a problem – the question often raised by employers is, “How do I know when I need to investigate?”
Although having an anti-harassment policy is standard for most employers, training of it is not. Many EEO lawsuits arise because managers do not know the best way to respond if credible complaints are presented.
Investigations may arise for multiple reasons:
- An employee speaks up to any supervisor, manager or above, or to human resources about feeling that they have been treated unfairly or differently
- Any time misconduct is observed
- Any time a supervisor hears of misconduct of some sort (even if just rumors or innuendos)
It is important to take action. A careful review by HR and management of each complaint is necessary to determine which issues require a full investigation and how to conduct it. Generally, there are three options for employers in this situation:
- Conduct an in‐house investigation with HR;
- Use retained legal counsel or corporate counsel; or
- Retain an outside, third party investigative service or firm.
Although conducting the investigation in‐house may be most cost effective and expedient, it may not be the most effective. It's a matter of resources, time, and experience. If HR is not trained to do an investigation correctly, it could lead to greater liability.
Using outside counsel to conduct the investigation can be effective but not always the best option. There are court cases that prevent outside counsel from representing the organization in a lawsuit because of a conflict of interest. Moreover, plaintiff attorneys tend to use this situation to discredit the outside counsel for being partial and having a lack of perspective since they represent the employer.
Given everything, a best practice is to retain an external third party investigative firm skilled in employment law matters. These firms are usually able to conduct a prompt, thorough investigative process and produce a report that has a greater chance of standing up to legal scrutiny. They are more likely to be viewed as skilled in investigative techniques and impartial in reporting results, regardless of outcome, to management.