Employer Investigation of Workplace Discrimination/Harassment Claims
Employers are frequently faced with claims involving discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) noted that in 2010 there were nearly 100,000 workplace discrimination claims.
It is important that employers recognize the importance of conducting a proper investigation into any discrimination or harassment claim. Conducting a proper and effective investigation is crucial not only because of the legal ramifications but also because it can prevent your business from losing good employees, preserve your reputation, and ensure your employees are happy and productive in the workplace. A timely, properly designed, and thorough investigation into any employee claim is of paramount importance.
It is vital that any investigation occur promptly after a complaint is brought to the attention of the employer. Not only do the EEOC laws require an investigation on the part of the employer as soon as discrimination and harassment claims are uncovered, it is also good business to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation. The investigation itself ensures that the complaining party—as well as other employees—knows that all claims are taken seriously.
Manner of the Investigation
The way an employer responds can also have an effect on how any claims are settled or if there is even a lawsuit filed against the employer. When designing an investigation plan an employer should carefully consider who will conduct the investigation. Choosing the proper party to conduct an investigation is important because it affects a defense in any potential law suit by broadcasting impartiality and showing that the employer appreciates the gravity of the claim.
Investigations can be conducted by internal Human Resources (HR) personnel, the employer’s attorney, or an outside professional investigator. It is important to consider the perception of employees when deciding which of these choices to utilize for the investigation.
Internal HR personnel are commonly used. However, there may be concerns about impartiality if there is real (or suspected) pressure from the employer to resolve the complaint in the employer’s favor. Investigations conducted by the employer’s attorney can also be problematic, because if a lawsuit does occur and the sufficiency of the investigation is challenged, an employer’s attorney can become a witness.
In some cases the best solution is to hire a neutral and impartial outside investigator, supervised by the employer’s attorney. This way the employer benefits from having his attorney involved in the investigation, there will be less question of the impartiality of the investigator, and there is little risk that the employer’s attorney will be personally ensnared in future litigation.
The investigation must be thorough. This means an employer should take an objective approach to all claims. An objective investigation looks to both sides equally without passing judgment on either party. It is also important that any investigation be well documented. Any interviews conducted as part of an investigation should be evidenced with detailed notes.
While workplace discrimination and harassment claims are serious accusations, proper management of each case will help show a proactive approach on the part of the employer. Prompt, well designed, and thoroughly executed investigations into any complaint allows investigations to ascertain the truth, remedy workplace violations, and mitigate employer’s liability.
Should you ever need help with a workplace discrimination or harassment complaint in Burlington County or nearby communities, contact the Moorestown business attorney at Dash Farrow LLP.