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Beware hasty decisions, investigate all the angles

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

After investigating a workplace incident but before making a final decision, consider hiring a neutral investigator to assess what really happened.

Recent case: A co-worker tried to pressure Andrea into sexual activity and sent her unsolicited sexual photographs. Andrea promptly informed her supervisor and filed a formal sexual harassment complaint. The employer promised to investigate that very morning. Within a few hours the co-worker found out and submitted false documents that allegedly showed Andrea was a willing participant. She was fired.

Andrea sued, claiming her employer hadn’t adequately investigated.

The employer argued it could rely on the co-worker’s account. But the court disagreed, concluding the investigation had at least been negligent. (Vasquez v. Empress Ambulance, No. 15-3239, 2nd Cir., 2016)

Final note: Ordinarily, employers aren’t required to act as a mini-court when investigating allegations. But when it becomes obvious that HR, a supervisor or another company representative jumped to conclusions or entirely ignored one side’s account, courts can decide that it’s obvious the process was unfair and tainted.

Don’t let that happen. While investigations should be relatively swift, almost immediately terminating the accuser is seldom a good idea.

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