Posted on April 18, 2013

Investigate Employee Complaints to Avoid Liability for Employee Wrong-doing

From the HR Pros of the HR Support Center

In the workplace, there may be employee complaints regarding harassment, fraud, theft, discrimination and other misconduct. When complaints are not handled appropriately, the company may experience increased exposure to employment-related liability. In the long run, there may also be financial loss, damages and penalties issued (from regulating agencies). Every employer should take the initiative to investigate employee complaints to ensure a non-discriminatory and safe working environment.

There are four key benefits in having an investigation procedure or policy in place:

# Employers that take the time to determine if “misconduct” did occur can pinpoint if there was a violation of governing regulations and/or company policy. If so, the employer can prepare documentation in the form of evidence in case a lawsuit is filed.
# In investigations, employers tend to engage in mini-audits to see if policies and procedures were equitably and lawfully enforced. This helps businesses assess their vulnerabilities within specific policies and determine how violations are or should be handled.
# When employers encourage open communication and create an environment that allows for employee feedback or complaints, they improve the process of internal reporting by saving time (and bringing a faster end to misconduct), versus having external agencies involved, which can consume time and money. This practice also enhances the employer’s reputation for being cooperative with the parties involved versus looking unfavorable in the eyes of others.
# Employee feedback and complaints allow for managers to foster an environment that allows for growth and awareness of weaknesses to be improved. When employers take the time to investigate employee complaints, they can determine which training topics need to be available for workplace engagement purposes. For example, if previous lawsuits or complaints involved safety issues, a workshop or training session about safety hazards may be initiated.

To understand and prevent employee complaints, consider:
* Instituting an “Open Door” policy
* Having a useful internal investigation procedure or policy in place
* Ensuring complaints are thoroughly, carefully and fairly investigated
* To understand the investigation process steps, there is a “Workplace Investigations Guide” available in the HR Support Center

Often employers brush off employee issues and complaints as insignificant and do not realize doing so may cost them in the long run, especially if a regulatory agency becomes involved. Employee relations, including complaint investigations, are critical for driving business success, maintaining equitable and compliant workplaces and building successful working relationships.

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