Most employers are subject to one or more of the various discrimination laws of the federal, state, and/or local governments, which prohibit any forms of employment discrimination, retaliation, and harassment. Under these laws, all decisions that are related to employment have to be based on valid work-related criteria.
It is likely that you will find yourself on the receiving end of complaints by an applicant or employee, claiming that someone in your company has violated one or more of the laws concerning employment discrimination. The effect of these claims can be very extensive, so, whatever the case, it is important that you immediately conduct internal employment investigations, as required by certain laws.
Various Equal Employment Opportunity laws require that any claims of discrimination are thoroughly investigated on time. Once you discover the allegations, or even suspect that illegal actions are happening, you have to plan and implement a proper internal employment investigation.
To help you in planning a proper investigation, it is advisable that you speak with legal experts or human resources professionals. They may also conduct the internal investigation for you.
When planning and implementing an appropriate internal employment investigation, here are some things you need to take into consideration:
- The Rightful Person to Conduct the Investigation
Employers may possibly demoralize the credibility of an investigation if they choose the wrong investigator. You should select someone who is experienced and possesses more than enough knowledge of the laws concerning discrimination.
In addition, the investigator you should hire must not be involved, in any way, in the primary allegations, or have a certain interest in the outcome. You may also use outside consultants to investigate. But regardless of who conducts the investigation, you have to remember that he/she might be called as a witness if ever litigation occurs.
- The Things You Have to Do prior to Interviewing any Witnesses
First of all, before interviewing any witnesses, you need to make a decision about who has to be told regarding the claims at this point. Without a doubt, your attorney and human resources need to know. But you should immediately consider some questions with your legal counsel, such as:
- Does a certain manager need to be told of the claims?
- Does telling a particular supervisor would weaken the investigation, or would it cause a possibility of retaliation against the complaining employee?
Furthermore, any files and documents that might be relevant to the internal investigation must be reviewed by the investigator. Such documents may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Hard-copy, as well as electronic documents and communications (for example, e-mails, etc.)
- Personnel files
- Manager's notes and desk files
- Human Resources (HR) policies
- Performance reviews
- HR files about the complaining employee and possible witnesses, if any
These documents stated above are just some of the items you need to gather. Make sure that you have talked with the people concerned not to destroy any files, as destruction of documents without getting legal advice first regarding whether it is appropriate, may possibly undermine your whole investigation and defense position.
Internal employment investigations can be complex, considering all the factors involved. It is best if you seek legal assistance from an experienced employment law attorney who can successfully handle such cases.