Ask any manager or business owner which two words they hate to hear the most from HR, and you are likely to get a response of “workplace investigation”. Those words have a bad reputation for leading to things like, litigation, termination and other …tion words that we would all rather avoid. But avoiding the investigation is not the answer. Here are the three top reasons employers avoid investigations, and why they don’t hold weight.
Avoidance #1: If we conduct an investigation, it is just going to create more liability for the company.
Fear of the unknown is something we all deal with, and since investigations are not a regular occurrence, the process and the outcome can create fear. Fear of asking or saying the wrong thing. Fear of unveiling more situations in the workplace that are best left alone. Or fear of having to terminate an employee who is in a key role in the company.
But did you know that in 2014 the Equal Employment Housing Commission (EEOC) dismissed 53% of the claims filed based on the fact that the employer met the legal requirements of conducting a prompt and impartial investigation? And those who did not conduct an investigation are automatically guilty of violating the reporting employee’s rights to an investigation.
Avoidance #2: Just give it a little time and it will go away.
Imagine you are in your kitchen and you notice some rat, ummm, “droppings”. Do you just ignore them? And if you do, when you find more in another cupboard do you just hope that it will stop? Or do you go through the cupboards and drawers to clean up the mess and see how far spread the impact has gone, and then set a plan for getting rid of the little bugger?
Often it is the same when you have a “rat” in the workplace. Inappropriate activity is generally based on the thought patterns of the accused. Whether it is conscious activity or simply the lifelong mindset of a manager who has always told the women in the office how lovely they look in certain outfits or treated employees of a certain race differently based on past experience, the behaviors don’t just automatically stop when ignored.
Chances are the employees are well aware of the problem long before anything is reported. And failing to investigate complaints sends a message to employees that the rules are not important, and in some cases that the employees themselves are not important.
Whether or not a claim of wrongdoing is substantiated, the act of conducting an investigation as a standard business process sends a message to the workforce that they are respected and everyone will be held to the same set of behavioral standards.
Avoidance #3: We don’t have the time or money to conduct an investigation.
Yes, investigations can be time consuming. Yes, investigations can be expensive. But they don’t have to be. Although we hear in the news of these huge, multi-million dollar awards in cases that took months to investigate, those are few and far between. When an investigation process is laid out in advance, as is the case with other standards business processes, the time needed for the investigation is significantly reduced because you are just moving through the process instead of recreating the wheel every time. And most investigations can be conducted in-house by a manager or HR representative who just needs to follow the process. I would never tell you not to involve an attorney in potentially high-risk matters, but you can conduct the investigation, have your attorney review the findings and provide legal advice on the final determination as a means to protect the company AND save money.
The Bottom line is that avoiding workplace investigations will never reduce liability, save money or save time in the long run. And doing the right thing can have a positive impact on your workforce. So as the saying goes, “Feel the fear, and do it anyway!”
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