When a business receives a workplace complaint, it is tempting to avoid action and hope that it goes away on its own (if only!). While digging into a sticky situation may not be enjoyable, ignoring the complaint can lead to extensive legal problems. It’s important for employers to show they take workplace complaints seriously, not only to comply with the law, but because it’s good for employees (and therefore good for the business!).
Types of workplace complaints
Workplace complaints may be internal and relayed from the employee directly to the HR department or through the management team. Some complaints may be minor and easily resolved, but from time to time a complaint about a serious issue may arise. Some common topics for these type of complaints include sexual harassment, race discrimination, workplace bullying, or age discrimination.
It’s important to keep in mind that it may have taken a lot of courage for the aggrieved employee to speak up about their concerns. The next steps taken by the company will have a lot to do with whether the employee feels validated and heard, rather than dismissed and brushed off. While it may seem like an inconvenience or unnecessary expense, there are several benefits to a business showing it cares about these concerns.
Why it’s important to address workplace complaints
State and Federal laws prohibit many kinds of harassment or discrimination. A timely response to a complaint is required under California law. Part of responding to a complaint is learning what happened, who was involved, and when the alleged conduct occurred. A workplace investigation is a great tool for discovering this information. The more information a company has about a situation, the better it can evaluate appropriate next steps.
Bear in mind too that when an employee feels validated and sees problems resolved swiftly, they can feel safe and happy. Indeed, a study reported by Forbes showed that happier employees are up to 20% more productive!
As an aside, it’s not uncommon for companies to spend thousands of dollars on fun team building activities, but it’s also critical to prioritize the less fun (but equally important) parts of a business, such as taking employee concerns seriously. When upper management demonstrates accountability, team members can feel safer in their work environment and motivated to speak up about concerns. (This can prevent minor issues from ballooning into huge problems.)
Internal vs. Third Party Investigation
Once a company has decided to investigate a concern, there is an important decision to make: conduct an internal investigation or hire an impartial third party investigator.
An internal investigation may be overseen by an HR business partner. The difficulty is that this setup provides the potential for bias, since they may have previously interacted with the parties involved or already have knowledge of the situation.
Bias is tricky because it can be completely unconscious on the part of the internal investigator. And even if they are able to remain purely objective throughout the investigation, the impartiality of the investigation may be called into question based on just the appearance of bias. If a regulatory agency or attorney has become involved, the stakes are even higher since the details of the investigation and the findings could be called into question in a lawsuit.
Another thing to be cautious of is the chain of command. If an internal investigator reports to someone involved in the investigation, the dynamics can be challenging at best and heavily biased at worst. It may be difficult to ask a superior hard questions about alleged misconduct; especially if the internal investigator and senior employee work together on a regular basis.
Using a third party investigator reduces the appearance of such bias. A third party investigator is highly trained in conducting investigations, including asking the difficult questions. With a third party investigator, there are no existing workplace relational dynamics to account for both during and after an investigation (like there can be for an internal investigator and their colleagues).
The benefits of caring about workplace complaints
There are a host of reasons why it is beneficial for employers to care about their employees’ well being by taking complaints seriously. If you are ever met with a situation and need the support of an experienced third party investigator, Aecus Law is here to help. As a firm that specializes in third party workplace investigations, Aecus Law will make sure the investigation is conducted thoroughly and with the utmost impartiality.
For assistance with a workplace investigation, reach out to us! We are here to help and happy to discuss your particular situation.