Workplace investigations of employee complaints can be crucial for solving and preventing workplace conflicts, preserving an organization’s public reputation, avoiding litigation, and protecting organizations if employees do take legal action. But not every workplace complaint requires a formal investigation. How can you tell when to investigate and what level of investigation to use? You need to look at the type of complaint and its possible impact on the organization.

Some Complaints May Not Need a Comprehensive Investigation

Some employee complaints may arise from misunderstandings or minor personality clashes. It is sometimes possible to solve these problems just by talking to the people involved. If all the people involved are satisfied with the resolution, and the problem doesn’t reoccur, then no further action may be necessary.

Investigate When There Is Potential Liability

If a complaint could potentially lead to liability in the future, then the organization should investigate it more thoroughly. When in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Investigating the facts may reveal that a complaint that seemed limited ends up having additional ramifications.

Always Conduct an Effective Investigation Whenever a Complaint Alleges Harassment, Unlawful Discrimination, Retaliation, or Violence

In these circumstances, organizations have a legal obligation to investigate the complaints. In addition, timely investigations help protect organizations from internal disruptions and conflicts and from external damage to the organization’s reputation. If the complaint escalates into legal action, a thorough and well-documented investigation will be an essential part of the organization’s defense.

What Is an Effective Investigation?

The general standard for investigations that are legally required is that they should be prompt, thorough, fair, impartial, and reasonable. But how in-depth they need to be depends on the particular situation.

EEOC guidance gives an example of a complaint about harassment where the harasser admits to the alleged conduct. In this case, the EEOC states that the organization wouldn’t need to interview any witnesses and should immediately decide on what corrective actions it will take. On the other hand, if the alleged harasser denies the accusations, then a thorough investigation must be conducted to help determine the facts. If more than one person has accused the alleged harasser, then investigators will need to take more time to conduct additional interviews.

Using an External Investigator

Organizations have the option of conducting their own workplace organizations. However, there are significant advantages to using a professional outside investigator, including avoiding conflicts of interest, protecting confidentiality, and ensuring that investigations are timely, objective, and effective. At Ablin Law PC, we have the experience, knowledge, and expertise to conduct professional workplace investigations of harassment, discrimination, code of conduct violations, and other legal violations. Contact us to find out more or if you have any questions about whether you need to investigate a particular complaint.

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