Is Your Consistent HR Investigation Process Truly Consistent?

Go ahead and say it. “Every investigation is different.” I agree with you. Any two situations involving people will be different. People’s actions, emotions and beliefs, etc. are all over the board. But there is a difference between the outcome of an investigation and the process of an investigation. And the process can and needs to be consistent. Not just for liability protection, but for the people involved in the investigation. Let’s look at the legal reasons for consistency first. And then we will dive into the reasons why your people and culture depend on a consistent process.

 Liability 

The EEOC Preliminary FY 2018 Sexual Harassment Data states that the EEOC alone recovered nearly $70 Million for victims of sexual harassment. That’s up from $47.5 million in FY 2017. And that doesn’t include discrimination claims or claims made to state agencies. So, we know that the need for consistent, defensible investigations is increasing. In our discussions with thousands of HR professionals over the past 3 years, over 95% stated that their investigation process was not sufficiently consistent and could create liability exposure. A significant amount of that exposure is due to potential discrimination within the investigation process. In a recent article published by the American Bar Association,  “An Attorneys Guide to Workplace Investigations” the author stated that the investigator’s method of recording and memorializing witness interviews must be accurate, complete, unbiased and trustworthy. The following are two examples of where inconsistent interviews could lead to liability.

Examples

Example 1: An employee came to HR with information on an incident that took place between her and two female employees. The accused were interviewed by different managers because they work in separate locations. Both interviews began with a standard set of questions, but additional questions took completely different paths. Although it is encouraged to ask clarifying questions based on the responses to core questions, it is important that additional questions are not added to one interview based on the perceptions of the interviewer. The first accused was asked clarifying questions based on observances and recollection of facts that took place during the incident. The second accused was asked additional questions regarding her feelings toward the victim based on the interviewer’s perception of her sexual orientation. The first accused was not found to have violated company policy or law. The second accused was found to have violated company policy. She then filed a complaint of discrimination against because she was asked questions about her feelings toward the victim based on her perceived sexual orientation, when the other accused was not.

Example 2: Two witnesses to an incident that took place at a company-wide event were interviewed by two different managers. The recollection of what happened during the incident were completely different between the two.  The findings of the investigation were based on one of the witness testimonies, as the other witness was determined not to be credible. The findings were that the complaint was not substantiated based on witness testimony. The victim filed a complaint with the EEOC stating that there were two people that witnessed the incident and one confirmed her claim. When the EEOC reviewed the investigation file, their determination based on the interview notes was that one witness had been subject to bias according to the questions asked, tone of the questions, and the interviewer’s comments and judgements made during the interview. As such, the investigation may be deemed insufficient, negating the employers affirmative defense which allows an employer that exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct harassment to rebut a harassment claim.

Impact on Culture

Although liability is a huge concern, the negative impact an inconsistent investigation process can and will have on company culture can be just as costly. When employees don’t feel as though they can trust the investigation process, that they will not be treated fairly and respectfully, or don’t think their complaint will be taken seriously, they do not come forward. Employee that feel they have been disrespected or treated improperly, carry these feeling with them. They fester, resulting in disengagement, increased absenteeism and often the employee will leave the company. But before they do, they will often spread the seed of ill will to others inside and outside of the company.

The EEOS Select Task Force Report  includes the following findings, that sum these situations up very clearly:

Ultimately, how an employee who reports harassment (either directly experienced or observed) fares under the employer’s process will depend on how management and its representatives act during the process. If the process does not work well, it can make the overall situation in the workplace worse. If one employee reports harassment and has a bad experience using the system, one can presume that the next employee who experiences harassment will think twice before doing the same. Finally, ensuring that the process that commences following a report is fair to an individual accused of harassment contributes to all employees’ faith in the system.

It is no longer enough to have a policy that is communicated to employees every year or so, some templates that are used by HR and managers when a complaint is filed, and hope all investigations are being conducted consistently. We all need to take steps to ensure a respectful, consistent and effective investigation process in order to build a trusting and civil workplace culture that drives positive change.

Let InvestiPro help change your employee’s perception of HR investigations. It’s as easy as:

You’ve got a problem. We’ve got a process. Let’s fix this together. See how it works.

Are You Outsourcing or Insourcing Your Investigations?

According to an article in Bloomberg Law, (Article: Surge in Outside Workplace Investigations in #MeToo Milieuir) there has been a surge in the number or workplace investigations being conducted by third-party investigators. Along with the high level, high dollar cases we read about in the news, these are the cases that are easily measurable. The article quotes Amy Oppenheimer, Law Offices of Amy Oppenheimer, as saying that “only about five out of 100 claims rise to a high level of seriousness.” So, what about the other 95%?

Employers are required to investigate all claims. But more than that, they must investigate any time they become aware that harassment, discrimination or bullying are taking place in the workplace. Even if no one has come forward to complain. At an average cost of $8,000 – $20,000 per investigation for outsourcing to an attorney or investigator, and an average of 1 investigation per 50 employees per year, an employer with 1000 employees could spend $200,000 per year on outsourcing their investigations. This sounds like a significant expense, until you consider the cost of a claim if one investigation is not handled properly.

Most HR professionals know the answer to this ongoing problem.  Companies must have a consistent, compliant and thorough investigation process in place for conducting these investigations in-house. And when you ask them, the first response is that they do have a sound process in place. But when digging a bit further, the majority will say that the process is inconsistent as there are several people who conduct the investigations and they all have their own way of doing things. Or, that their process relies heavily on emails, hand-written notes, and questions that are developed on the fly. So we ask, “18-months from now when you get a notice from the EEOC or state employment agency, do you feel you could adequately defend the investigation you conducted?” The answer is generally not a feeling of confidence.

There is a better alternative available that makes it much easier to prove a consistent and complaint investigation process. InvestiPro, as mentioned in Bloomberg Law, is the first automated investigation solution. Schedule a demo and spend a few minutes learning how technology can help you have confidence in your workplace investigations.

4 Steps for Communicating the Importance of Liability Protection, by Corie Mallen

In today’s society, it seems like an obvious idea that every company has an effective process in place to protect their employees and themselves from liability associated with workplace incidents. However, sometimes the costs of implementing such processes can weigh heavily on the decision to move forward with a new product or service. Here are some tips on how to sell your decision makers on the necessity of having a secure and consistent process in place to be aware of and investigate workplace incidents.

  1. Think about what outcome you want and how what you are proposing can make your workplace better for both employees and management. 

Workplace incidents can cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in numerous ways whether it be settlements, lost productivity or losing good employees because there is not enough trust in the company. There are new programs and systems that utilize technology to make investigations more efficient and consistent and while the cost of these programs may not already be a line item in your budget, they should be weighed against having to pay a large settlement, the cost of back filling positions of good employees who decide to leave and how much time will be saved  with an automated  process.

  1. When building your proposal, realize who your audience is and what benefits this proposed endeavor will provide for them as well as the company as a whole. Sometimes proposals are more about educating your audience. When you’re presenting to someone who has possibly never conducted an investigation, what would you like them to leave having learned? How can you speak to them, so they will understand your viewpoint? It all goes in to knowing your audience and your own goals. For example, if you’re trying to sell them on a product that streamlines investigations and the Chief Financial Officer is your roadblock, try to include statistics on the money saved by having such a product in hourly wages through automated efficiencies or simply a comparison of a past settlement to the subscription cost.
  2. Test out your proposal.

Before heading in to sell to the decision makers, try and catch one or two of them to test your proposal and adjust where necessary. Testing can give you valuable feedback on what to expect before going into a presentation. You don’t have to run through your entire proposal but if you can catch one or two people for a few minutes and give them a couple of points you feel are important to your case, they may be able to give you feedback on certain language you may want to use, or their body language can yield whether your presentation held their interest. This may also allow them to think through the proposal ahead of time so you will have at last one or two people on your side going into your presentation.

  1. Stay calm, control your presentation and utilize opportunities for further discussion.

It’s important to stay calm. If you believe in what you’re trying to sell to management, it will come across as such. You want to make sure you’re prepared with all obvious answers to questions and make sure you control the time and stay on track during your presentation. If a question is asked and you don’t have an answer, don’t panic. Just let them know you will get back to them with the information in a timely manner. That will open the door for further communication on the subject and allow you to keep the idea fresh in their minds.

If you would like a proposal template to help you prepare to present your project for budget approval, email Corie@goinvestiPro.com.

To learn more about new tools that are available to help calm the fear and chaos in workplace investigations, and make you the hero by improving your company culture while increasing liability protections, go to GoInvestiPro.com.

HR Offense -vs- Defense. What’s Your Plan?

It still surprises me when I hear that employees have brought forth a complaint to HR or a company executive, and no investigation was conducted. Although the numbers are reducing over time, some organizations still believe that there is less liability in simply doing nothing. Then, if a claim arises, a quick settlement is the customary resolution. But where does this leave your company culture?

Although you may have a process in place, there must be a plan for actively using the process and communicating it to employees regularly to be effective. When reviewing your policy and process, is the strategy for Offense or Defense? When your favorite sports team takes the field, do you think they just run out on the playing field and start playing? Although that might be hysterical to watch, it would obviously be chaotic and inefficient. And for some of us, I understand that is how our investigation process feels at times. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Taking an Offensive stance can reduce time spent on investigations, reduce potential liability exposure, improve retention and strengthen company culture through accountability and trust. In the SHRM article, “New Tools Aid HR During Workplace Investigations” Aaron Crews, attorney and chief data analytics officer with Littler in Sacramento, CA, confirmed that, “After receiving a notification letter from the EEOC or a state agency that a claim has been lodged, companies can respond before the regulatory body proceeds with the claim. Historically the EEOC has dropped over 53% of claims made based on the employer having performed a prompt and impartial investigation based on a planned, consistent process.

We can provide information that further explains the benefits of an Offensive stance on unwanted workplace behaviors?  Follow our Blog, and we’ll send you a whitepaper that can help.