Prompt and thorough investigations of complaints of harassment and discrimination can provide solid legal defenses to employee lawsuits. Even where there may not be a technical, legal defense (e.g., supervisory harassment resulting in an adverse employment action), investigating employee complaints of inappropriate behavior can paint the employer in a favorable light and is just a good business practice for employers concerned about providing a professional workplace.
One of the first choices an employer receiving an employee complaint of discrimination, harassment or even misconduct, has to make is who will investigate the complaint on behalf of the company. Complaints do not necessarily have to be investigated by lawyers or even those external to the company. However, there are certain qualities an employer should consider in selecting the investigator (not all qualities are necessarily required for a prompt and thorough investigation).
- Experienced –someone with prior human resources experience and that has conduct prior investigations of discrimination, harassment, retaliation or workplace misconduct;
- Unbiased and objective –someone that is neither accused of misconduct or who reports to or is the direct organizational chain of the the person being complained about;
- Articulate –an individual who is well-spoken and makes both good verbal and physical appearance. This will be the company’s spokesperson at any trial where the company has to describe and defend its investigation and any remedial measures taken as a result of the investigation;
- Knowledgeable –person should be knowledgeable of the subject matters being investigated as well as the company policies that apply to the investigation and the misconduct alleged;
- Approachable –someone that the complaining party, witnesses and the person being complained about will open up to. For example, in the investigation of a sensitive sexual harassment investigation, it may be (but is not required to be) that a person who is the same gender as the person making the complaint may be the proper choice.
- Available –the individuals selected needs to have the time devoted the conduct and conclude the investigation promptly.
As prompt and thorough investigation can be an effective defense to a discrimination, harassment or retaliation lawsuits. The best defense starts with selecting the right quarterback to run the investigation.
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