When an employee steps forward to complain about harassment, you'd better take that complaint seriously.
If you don't, you could find yourself in a tight spot, legally speaking.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, workplace discrimination and harassment are prohibited. Employers are urged to take swift action to respond to these complaints.
As such, employers must do their best to investigate the complaints and resolve as many of the issues as they possibly can. If they don't investigate, they could be setting themselves up for trouble.
As an employer, how do you conduct such an investigation? Here are five things to be aware of during an employee investigation:
- Take notes on the accuser's statements. Listen carefully and don't interject too much of your own statements or opinion. Make sure you note down dates and the timeline.
- Talk to the parties separately. Don't have the accuser and the accused in the same room. It's a recipe for disaster.
- Limit access to employee and personnel files. Only those who need to know in order to conduct the investigation should have access to these files.
- Be mindful of privacy when conducting searches. Employees to have a reasonable expectation of privacy as it relates to their personal belongings. An employer should have policies drafted well in advance as it relates to searches. If employees know that searches can be conducted at any time, then their expectation of privacy is diminished.
- Having counsel conduct the investigation could complicate matters. It's often a good idea to have legal counsel advise you during an investigation. But be careful: having a lawyer conduct a harassment investigation could bar him from representing you if the case goes to trial, Corp Magazine notes. For example, if your in-house lawyer (or even outside counsel) acts as an investigator, he may be called to testify as a witness, which would disqualify him from trying the case in most courts.
Employee investigations are delicate matters and should be taken seriously. Don't drop the ball on an employee investigation, otherwise you could be facing a long battle.
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