HR pros know how important it is to investigate employee harassment complaints, rapidly and thoroughly.
But what if the people you interview lie, so convincingly and/or concertedly that your investigation is stymied? Are you legally responsible for failing to get to the bottom of things?
In two recent cases, federal courts answered that question with a No. Essentially, the courts said good faith on the employers’ part, along with a serious attempt to find the truth, was enough to shield them from liability.
In one case, in Utah, an executive and his secretary had an affair, and co-workers complained. During the resulting investigation, both parties lied about the affair, and the exec got off with a warning.
After the affair turned sour, and her husband found out about it, the secretary sued the company for failing to stop her boss from harassing her.
The courts ruled against her. They said the investigation was “thwarted by (her) own false statements,” and when her husband went to the company, the offending exec was forcibly retired.
The other case, in Alabama, also involved a consensual affair that went bad, this time between two co-workers.
Resisted the investigation
The female partner complained her ex-lover was impeding her training. He denied any affair, and she hedged, saying her complaint was about training, not sex. She dodged the HR investigator’s questions, and was vague about the facts.
The company judged the complaint was unsubstantiated, and fired the woman for “detrimental behavior.” She sued, but the judge said the company had good-faith reasons not to trust her, and didn’t know her ex was lying.
Cite: Calloway v. Aerojet General Corp.; Pinney v. Southern Nuclear Operating Co.
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