Why does your company have to investigate employee complaints?

by on May 5, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

In some cases, its a legal obligation. In most, it’s good business sense.

  1. Legal Obligation
  2. You may have a legal obligation to investigate employee complaints under the Faragher Ellerth Supreme Court decisions. These require a company to take reasonable steps and respond to concerns about discrimination in order to have an affirmative defense and investigation can be one of those reasonable steps.

    Failure to investigate employee complaints may constitute retaliation itself under the context matter standard announced in the Supreme Court’s Burlington Northern case. In that case, the Supreme Court alluded to an African American FBI agent and his allegation that the FBI typically always investigated death threats against FBI agents and that the FBI did not investigate a threat against him because he was African American. The court cited with approval the decision that allowed that case to go forward, that is the FBI’s failure to do an investigation may have constituted retaliation for employee complaints in that case.

  3. Change in business culture
  4. Cultural change often is a reason for employee complaints investigations. That is management may want to make a statement that it is taking the issue is very seriously and wants to set a tone within the company going forward that it will not – have zero tolerance for whatever the issue being investigated is. If that is the case, you may shape your investigations slightly differently for emphasis.

  5. Reducing legal exposure
  6. Reducing exposure to claims obviously is a key element of employee complaints investigations. If you’re investigating a whistleblower claim and the whistleblower has not yet gone outside the company if you do your job right, the whistleblower may feel that the company has done what is necessary and may not feel the need to go to a government agency which can save your company a great deal of money and headache and potentially negative exposure.

    Also you have to keep in mind that under many statutes, the government itself may decide to do its own investigation and your investigation may be preceding what the government does or going on at the same time and you need to keep that dynamic in mind. Your employee complaints investigation may indeed be the first thing that the government looks and they may be looking to see how thorough or not the company’s investigation was.

    That can happen in the occupational safety context both at the federal and state level. It can happen in the SEC context if it’s a Sarbanes-Oxley issue or accounting fraud issue and can happen in the false claims context where the department of defense or its agencies may decide to come in and do their own investigation. So all these things need to inform how you shape your investigation.

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