Employers know they must conduct prompt and thorough investigations once an employee complains about discrimination or harassment.
The integrity of the investigative process depends on the honesty of all participants. You don’t have to tolerate employees who lie during an investigation, even if the lie is a minor one.
Recent case: Firefighter Kelvin Ross helped a female co-worker file a sexual harassment complaint with the fire department. She wanted to complain in writing, so Ross agreed to proofread a letter she wrote. When he finished proofreading the letter, Ross placed it under the deputy chief’s door.
The department launched a harassment investigation, first questioning the co-worker. She volunteered that Ross had helped her with the letter and placed it under the door. Ross subsequently denied having anything to do with the letter. When confronted with the co-worker’s words, he admitted his participation.
Ross was given the choice of resigning or being fired for lying. He resigned and sued, alleging he had been fired for assisting another employee with a sexual harassment complaint.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals saw things differently. It concluded the department was within its rights when it punished dishonesty during an investigation. (Ross v. City of Perry, No. 09-15392, 11th Cir., 2010)
Final note: Why would Ross deny involvement? Perhaps for fear of reprisal. But the court wasn’t concerned about his motive—just his dishonesty.
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