Articles by Rachel Ablin, Esq.
Employers have a legal obligation to investigate claims involving a variety of different types of alleged discrimination in the workplace. Given recent events, claims of race and sex discrimination in the workplace are making headlines. If you are faced with a claim of race or sex discrimination, it is imperative that you understand the law and know how to respond.
In the United States, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way many businesses operate by forcing them to transition to a virtual workforce. Many experts believe that this temporary shift will become a permanent one, even after the economy re-opens. Having to manage a predominantly virtual workforce comes with benefits and challenges, and figuring out how to conduct “virtual” workplace investigations, without making serious mistakes, is one of those challenges.
As news of COVID-19 dominates headlines, the Illinois Department of Human Rights came out with its much awaited training guidance for Illinois employers who are now required to provide annual sexual harassment prevention training to all employees starting this year (2020).
The coronavirus shutdown has caused drastic changes to the country’s workplaces, but the laws prohibiting employment discrimination are still in effect. Even though the EEOC’s physical offices are closed, its employees continue to work remotely, and the Commission is still enforcing the law.
If a client’s employee has alleged workplace harassment, discrimination, or misconduct, the investigation needs to start as quickly as possible. If you wait too long, people’s memories of what happened can become more unreliable, and witnesses may no longer be available. EEOC guidance on harassment specifically requires that investigations be “prompt” and that if “a fact-finding investigation is necessary, it should be launched immediately.”
Always take employees’ complaints seriously when the complaints allege harassment, discrimination, or other workplace misconduct. By doing so, you send the message that the company is committed to addressing problems and that it wants employees to come forward and report unlawful behavior. The tips and suggested questions below will help you conduct a thorough interview of the complainant.
In workplace sexual harassment cases, investigators often have to make recommendations with evidence that is less complete than they would like. It may come down to a “he said, she said” situation in which the investigator must make judgments about the relative credibility of the parties and witnesses.
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.
The recent firing of McDonald’s former CEO Steve Easterbrook highlights the problem of drawing the line between appropriate and inappropriate romantic relationships in the workplace. Easterbrook was a successful CEO. McDonald’s stock price more than doubled during his 4-year tenure. However, he lost his job because a consensual relationship with another company employee violated the company’s code of conduct, which states “employees who have a direct or indirect reporting relationship to each other are prohibited from dating or having a sexual relationship.” Easterbrook publicly admitted making a mistake and said it was time for him to move on.
There’s not a lot of room for error when investigating complaints of workplace harassment or discrimination. Mistakes made during the investigation process can expose your client to expensive liability in the future. That’s an unnecessary risk that can be minimized with proper preparation and by using a neutral and experienced investigator.