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Don’t let counterclaim stop investigation

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

When they are accused of wrongdoing, some employees clearly believe the best defense is an aggressive offense.

For example, it’s fairly common for someone accused of sexual harassment to counter that, in reality, he was the one who was being harassed. Then he gives HR a detailed complaint and a lengthy list of people to interview.

Don’t let this tactic dissuade you. Instead, complete your investigation just as you would any other. You don’t have to interview everyone on the employee’s long list—just enough to make a good-faith decision about what happened.

Remember, it’s your job to make credibility decisions, deciding who is telling the truth and who is not.

Recent case: The University of Arkansas fired Al McCullough after he was investigated for sexual harassment. Two female co-workers had complained about McCullough. The university began an investigation and informed him of the allegations. He responded by claiming it was he who had been harassed—and backed it up with an exhaustive complaint and long list of witnesses.

Investigators interviewed some of the witnesses on McCullough’s list, plus others that the women provided. They concluded that the women were telling the truth, and the university fired McCullough.

He sued, alleging sex discrimination, claiming the investigation was a sham since not all his witnesses were interviewed.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed his case. It reasoned that all that the employer had to do was conduct a good-faith investigation—which it had—and interview as many people as the investigators thought prudent. (McCullough v. University of Arkansas, No. 08-1353, 8th Cir., 2009)

Final note:
Remember, the key is “good faith.” You can be wrong, as long as you honestly believe the employees making the accusations.

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