Internal Investigations

Workplace conflicts can, and do, arise. Employers risk litigation if they don't properly investigate and resolve conflicts.  This may require imposing discipline or even termination.

Employee problems come in all shapes and sizes, such as complaints of sexual harassment, money missing from employee lockers, workplace accidents, and employee sabotage. And when problems happen, they rarely are cleanly delineated and easily resolved. They come to supervisors through the muddied, if not conflicting, reports of the various people involved.

Because workplace disputes often have personal importance to the employees involved, their individual perceptions can be shaded. Furthermore, since these disputes may impact their livelihood, they may even lie. From these differing accounts, you must investigate and determine what really happened.

To make matters more difficult, there is no magic formula for conducting investigations; they necessarily vary based on the issues and the people involved. Some issues may be resolved quickly and discreetly while others may require broad canvassing of the entire workforce.

Any investigation requires judgment calls about what issues to investigate, who to include in the investigation, and ultimately who to believe. Although no investigation is perfect, the goal should be to conduct the investigation in the fairest way possible. In all likelihood, the truth will never be certain, but employers must use their best judgment.

Investigations also have risks. A shoddy investigation may do more harm than good, raising questions about the accuracy of the results as well as casting doubt about the employer’s commitment to treating employees fairly. There is also the risk that you may not like what the investigation uncovers. It may reveal that a pivotal employee has committed offenses that require termination; it may require addressing systemic problems which raise the specter of litigation.

Employers beware though. If an investigation is conducted and a serious problem is uncovered, you have an obligation to act to right any wronged employee or otherwise address any legal impropriety.