When an incident such as sexual harassment or discrimination is reported in your workplace, the consequences can affect your business in a number of ways. It is important to take the complaint seriously for the safety of your employees and the health of your company, but also to protect yourself against legal action.
For startups, or small to midsize companies without extensive HR departments, it can be difficult to know how to conduct a workplace investigation properly. Especially in California, which has extensive and sometimes complicated employment laws, questions abound about the process, such as “How long does a workplace investigation take?” and “What happens after a workplace investigation?”
In order to address questions like these, the following article will outline the most important considerations when navigating the workplace investigation process.
Taking the First Steps
An employee bringing a complaint about harassment or discrimination in the workplace is a serious matter, and you’ll want to respond quickly, carefully, and decisively. One of the first decisions to make is whether or not to put the accused party on leave, or make steps to ensure that the accuser and accused are not forced to interact at work.
Throughout the process, it is important to maintain confidentiality as much as possible to protect all people involved and keep the investigation professional. Knowing that their testimony will remain confidential will also encourage those you interview to be more honest in their witness statements.
However, all parties must also understand that complete confidentiality is not possible and that some information may need to be shared with witnesses or others involved in the investigation.
Working With the Right Investigator
After initially taking stock of the situation in the workplace, the next step is to choose someone to lead the investigation. This person should have experience with handling workplace investigations and be completely impartial to all parties involved in the dispute.
In practice, this often means hiring someone outside of your organization to conduct the investigation. Because any slight misstep can open you up to litigation and lead to a worse outcome for your business, the safest choice for an external investigator is usually someone with a legal background and with some kind of workplace investigation certification.
What Happens After a Workplace Investigation?
Workplace investigations must strike a delicate balance between addressing issues as quickly as possible in order to allow employees to return to business as normal while also taking place over a period of time that is long enough to allow the investigation to be thorough and complete.
Post-investigation, managing the situation can take different forms. If the investigation findings indicate that some form of misconduct occurred, then steps should be taken to stop it, and also to prevent it from happening in the future. These steps could range from training to disciplinary action to termination.
It is also important to manage and resolve the tensions between employees that often arise in the work environment during such investigations. One of the best ways to stop rumors from spreading and employees from taking sides is to debrief everyone affected by the investigation while being careful not to reveal information that should remain confidential.
A Workplace Investigator You Can Trust
Navigating the process of handling workplace complaints, especially in California, is riddled with risks. Throughout the process, any misstep can open you up to future liability and cause harm to your company’s most valuable resource – its employees.
That’s why working with a workplace investigator you can trust is so important. Lisa Chapman is a partner at Ruben P. Ruiz PC and a certified workplace investigator with over thirty years of experience giving legal counsel. Ready to take the next step? Contact us today by filling out the form below to schedule a consultation.