Where a discrimination or harassment complaint is made, a thorough investigation coupled with appropriate action is one of the employers best defenses to lawsuits. A thorough investigation typically involves interviewing witnesses and other employees who have worked with the individual accused. Written and signed statements should be taken from the individuals interviewed. Each person interviewed should be advised of the non-retaliation policy. The employer should also prepare a detailed summary of the investigation which should include a summary of witness statements, conclusion, and possible remedial action. Discipline should be imposed if allegations are confirmed.
In selecting an individual to conduct the investigation, an employer has to carefully evaluate the various issues that may affect that individuals objectivity. Office politics, established relationships, unclean hands of an investigator, personal friendships and interdepartmental frictions are factors that may affect the objectivity an in-house investigator. Many employers actually incur liability for an improperly conducted in investigation. If witness employees fear retaliation the employer may actually broaden his liability instead of limiting it. Furthermore, if management fails to act appropriately and in a manner consistent with policy, it could incur further liability.
We can assist an employer by using our staff to conduct a thorough and objective investigation. We will prepare a summary of the investigation and recommend appropriate discipline or other remedial action, if warranted. Where an employer prefers to use its in-house staff to conduct the investigation, we can assist in suggesting a written investigation and follow-up plan. We can coordinate with the in-house investigator, prepare witness interview questionnaires, recommend names of witnesses to interview, and review witness statements and reports prepared by in-house investigators for thoroughness. We recognize that each situation is different and would welcome an opportunity to propose a plan that is tailored to the specific issues presented.