Among the mistakes employers sometimes make when investigating workplace misconduct: waiting too long to get started, limiting the scope of the investigation, failing to take interim measures to curb bad behavior and selecting a biased investigator.
During a July 2012 webinar, Allison West, SPHR -- an employment attorney who specializes in training, conducting workplace investigations, and coaching executives and managers -- said she evaluates several over-arching issues:
• Is everybody safe? If not, what interim measures must be put in place to ensure safety?
• Has there been a policy violation?
• Are there legal issues that might arise?
West, founder of Employment Practices Specialists in Pacifica, Calif., and a frequent speaker at SHRM’s Annual Conference & Exposition, provided recommendations to avoid legal and reputation damage in investigations during a webinar hosted by i-Sight.com, an Ottawa, Canada, Web-based case management software provider.
Some of the mistakes employers should avoid:
Delaying an investigation: Some companies adopt an “I’ll get to it when I have time” attitude when they hear allegations of wrongdoing in the workplace. Employees do not have to put a complaint in writing in order for an investigation to begin, West explained. Moreover, it’s important not to promise confidentiality if one hears about a potential violation.
“You’re on notice and you have to do something,” West said during the webinar. Otherwise, memories start to fade, documents and evidence can disappear, and the bad behavior can continue. And courts have held that failure to investigate might be considered adverse employment action, West said.
However, she advised webinar participants to avoid implementing policies that specify a precise time frame during which an investigation must be launched and completed because witnesses might be on vacation or unavailable for a legitimate reason.
“You need to say ‘we take (the allegation) seriously and we will do a prompt and thorough investigation,’ ” West said. “Prompt for me means you at least get the ball rolling. Each