Investigation must be reasonable–not perfect — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Investigation must be reasonable–not perfect

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Have you worried that your investigations into employee wrongdoing aren’t good enough? Stop fretting.

As long as your investigations are fair and reasonable, they don’t have to be perfect. The workplace isn’t a court of law, and employers don’t have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an employee broke a rule.

Recent case: Robert Kohut, who is white, was fired from his job with Home Depot for allegedly using vulgar language to another employee. After going into the stockroom to look for something, he apparently called the other employee a “f_____g idiot” for not locating the item.

Home Depot has strict rules requiring employees to treat each other with respect. The rules say that violating the policy is grounds for termination. In addition, the company requires an immediate investigation to determine what happened. The details of the investigation are left to the discretion of supervisors.

Kohut’s co-worker complained and their supervisor, following Home Depot policy, began an investigation. None of Kohut’s white co-workers was asked what happened, but those who were of other races were.

Kohut sued, alleging that it was discriminatory not to interview white employees.

The court disagreed. It said that the company policy only required a reasonable investigation, and the supervisor was free to stop the investigation after concluding that the evidence supported the allegations against Kohut. (Kohut v. Home Depot, No. 09-C-4321, ND IL, 2010)

Final note: Giving supervisors a bit of discretion is beneficial for several reasons. For example, the ability to make decisions on discipline and investigations helps cement the supervisor’s status as an exempt employee.

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