When an employee alleges discrimination or harassment in the workplace the employer is legally required to act swiftly and efficiently to try and determine if the claim has merit. If evidence is uncovered that supports the allegations an employer’s legal obligations are relatively clear; however, what should an employer do when there is no evidence to support the allegations? Handling false claims in the workplace can be just as difficult as handling meritorious claims. When handling a potentially false claim, the following steps should be taken:
- Conduct a thorough investigation. Anytime a workplace complaint is filed with an employer a thorough investigation should be conducted. If that investigation appears to show that the allegations lack validity, it becomes even more important to leave no stone unturned. While an employer may be legally protected from liability when a claim is investigated and acted on in a timely manner, that protection depends on the employer’s swift and decisive actions. An employer certainly can conclude that a claim lacks merit; however, concluding that a claim is false should only be done following an exhaustive and comprehensive investigation.
- Document the conclusions reached as a result of your investigation. An employer should conduct any workplace complaint investigation with the possibility of litigation in mind. That is especially pertinent when the investigation shows signs of a false claim. The claimant and accused will undoubtedly offer very different versions of the event(s) that led to the claim. Carefully document what each party claims occurred – or did not occur. Also, document in writing any statements you obtained from witnesses.
- Be aware of the anti-retaliation provisions of the Civil Rights Act and local statutes. If the conclusion reached after a thorough investigation is that the claim has no merit, an employer must understand the legal repercussions of taking negative action against the complainant. Specifically, the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevent an employer from taking negative action against an employee just for filing a complaint even if the allegation completely lacks The anti-retaliation provision makes knowledgeable legal advice crucial for an employer when faced with a false workplace claim.
- Take appropriate action. If an investigation shows that a claim lacks merit, the employer must decide what action(s) to take. Deciding how to proceed will depend, in large part, on whether the investigation produced evidence that the complainant intentionally made a false claim. For example, the anti-retaliation provision of the Civil Rights Act does not prohibit terminating an employee for a different reason if that reason is not a pretext and is not based on retaliation for filing a claim. Once again, an employer should seek legal advice to prevent violating state or federal laws that cover workplace complaints.
For questions involving false claims and workplace investigations, contact Ablin Law by filling out our online contact form or by calling 312.288.2012.