Using a Third-Party Workplace Complaint Investigator Is Critical to Your Success
Benefits of Outsourcing Workplace Investigations
No organization, no matter how well run, is immune to employee workplace complaints. Whether you employ fewer than 50 employees or manage thousands, some form of complaint will inevitably be filed against your organization or one or more of its members. In our wide experience, which spans for-profit and nonprofit organizations, including colleges, universities, churches and ministries, we have witnessed complaints filed in a variety of areas, including:
- Discrimination (e.g., gender, disability, religion, race, age)
- Harassment (sexual and nonsexual)
- Theft or other ethical impropriety
- Violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act
- FMLA and medical-related leave issues
- Reprisals against whistleblowers
With the potential liability being so high, and the risk of negative publicity, the benefits of using an independent investigator are not to be dismissed: External independent investigators demonstrate and support an organization’s integrity and desire for objectivity, protect the confidentiality of its operations that an internal conflict of interest could otherwise jeopardize, and insulate the employer from claims of retribution toward whistleblowers.
When an organization outsources an investigation to an independent, external specialist, it demonstrates to its employees that it is intent on doing the right thing: to permit the impartial examination of the events in question, irrespective of the outcome. In contrast, when an investigation is performed internally, such as by a manager employed by the company, it’s understandable that the employee might fear their complaint could cast a shadow over their future at the company, whether consciously or unconsciously, particularly if they have any dealings with that manager. There’s no shortage these days of bad publicity when an organization appears to dismiss or bury a complaint or retaliate against the complainant, whether it’s in public or private companies or within our government.
Avoid conflicts of interest and protect confidentiality
If you’re thinking that you can safely delegate workplace complaints and violations to in-house counsel, we urge you to think again. Should the complainant feel their complaint was not handled impartially or that they’ve been subject to harassment or retribution attempts, you might well find your organization facing a lawsuit. Should it go to trial, the prosecuting attorney will look for any signs of conflict of interest and/or lack of impartiality that suggests the internal investigation was flawed. And you might find your in-house counsel on the stand, testifying to conversations and dealings you assumed would be protected by attorney-client privilege but were forced to waive. An independent investigator, on the other hand, can only testify to what their investigation of the pertinent circumstances revealed.
The experienced investigators used by In His Name HR are independent of your organization, with numerous similar investigations under their belt with findings both for and against employers, further highlighting their impartiality. For example, our investigators refrain from using words like “we” and “us,” making it obvious to both judge and jury that no relationship between them and the organization exists that would tip the investigation in the organization’s favor. Again, an outside investigator does not represent the organization, and their statements are limited only to what they learned in the investigation—nothing else.
Allay employee fears of retribution
in our experience, most human resources managers and other authority figures do not treat employees differently when concerns are aired about the organization, or even about individual managers. Still, it’s understandable that such an employee might have concerns or fears that raising an issue might negatively impact their career path or even result in retribution. For example, a complainant who has been passed over for promotion months after they filed a complaint might see things differently.
We have spoken to employees who participated in internal investigations who said that the internal investigator now “sees me as a problem, or a complainer.” Most internal investigators are trained and prepared for this. However, whether real or perceived, it is an issue. Even if the internal investigator can separate what was said in the complaint and operate objectively going forward, participants may likely never be convinced that the internal investigator can “unhear” what was said and not be influenced by it.
When you use an outside investigator, however, those concerns are allayed. A third-party investigator can conduct a full, independent investigation while the organization and employees carry on the business at hand without employees fearing future effects.
The bottom line
Is this a cause for concern? It should be. We work in difficult times, under increased scrutiny. Complaints are on the rise—sometimes daily. HR departments are overburdened. With the news escalating in the media surrounding harassment, discrimination, and hostile work environments, employee complaints have now reached record levels.
Let us allay your concerns. Reach out to us to discuss having a trusted partner to guide you and your team in the event a complaint arises.
Contact us today. You—and your employees—will be glad you did.
In His Name HR helps organizations build high-performance human resource programs. Visit them at In HIS Name HR or e-mail them here.
Mark A. Griffin is the founder and chief consultant of In His Name HR LLC. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.
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