“Every unfortunate event does not give rise to lawsuit,” the great legal scholar and daytime-TV fixture Judge Mills Lane has been quoted as saying. However, if an unfortunate event happens during the course of business, you could be at risk for a lawsuit, especially if you don’t investigate claims yourself.
Nearly 90 percent of workers who eventually file a lawsuit against their employers made their complaints initially to a supervisor or other company representative, according to a recent study from the National Whistleblowers Center. Clearly, those 90 percent didn’t feel that their complaints were taken seriously or handled properly. And while you can’t make everyone happy, you can take steps to reduce your risk of a lawsuit resulting from a complaint.
- Have official whistleblowing and investigative policies or procedures in place before you receive a claim or complaint.
- No matter how you receive a complaint (in writing or word of mouth), or how minor the complaint might sound, investigate it.
- If the complaint involves a manager or supervisor who could retaliate against the complainant, the investigation will have to be external.
- If the investigation can be internal, start by interviewing the complainant. Focus on the facts of their complaint and be sure you understand them completely.
- Then interview witnesses. Have everyone (complainant, witnesses, etc.) review their statements and sign them.
- Determine if the complaint is valid and credible and whether further investigation is warranted.
- If the investigation is to move forward, notify the complainant. Emphasize the company’s commitment to upholding the principles that might have been violated by the complained-about act, and let the complainant know that retaliation against them will not be tolerated.
- Interview the alleged wrongdoer. As with your interview with the complainant, focus on facts and strive for understanding their side of the story.
- Determine the appropriate action to take. Before implementing the action, review it with your general counsel and HR. Focus on fairness, especially for the complainant, rather than sweeping unpleasantness under the rug.
- After the investigation has been completed and the action implemented, review what you’ve learned about your business’s employees, procedures, weaknesses, etc.
We can’t guarantee this information will protect you from lawsuits, but just having a set of established policies in place to respond to employee complaints can help you in many ways.
What’s been your experience with employee complaints and investigations? Without revealing any confidential information :-), let us know in the comments!