Investigating internal employee complaints often involves complicated, personal and litigation-bound issues for employers. An improperly conducted investigation can create and compound numerous problems, including financial liability, loss of employee morale, destruction of confidentiality, and lawsuits against the company and the investigator.
Alternatively, employers have achieved dismissal of federal and state lawsuits by using investigation reports to demonstrate that they had an effective program to prevent, detect, and quickly correct improper conduct. Among other components, an effective program must include a process for prompt, thorough, and fair investigations of employees' complaints and remedial actions when necessary.
Decisions by New Jersey courts often establish trends in employment law around the country. Recently, New Jersey courts have emphasized that employers who have harassment/discrimination prevention programs, but do not conduct prompt, thorough, impartial, well documented investigations, and ensure that the investigative conclusions are well founded, still can be found liable for the employee misconduct at issue. These cases demonstrate that when improperly executed, an investigation can become a plaintiff's "sword" and an additional basis for employer liability rather than a shield from expensive litigation.
At ZH, we are experienced investigators who can assist employers by conducting investigations in a prompt, thorough and impartial manner. All investigations are conducted in the strictest of confidence and, generally, consist of the following steps:
- Initial Consultation with the Client to obtain background facts regarding the complaint, review of relevant documents, including anti-harassment/non-discrimination policies
- Investigatory interviews of complainant, fact witnesses and alleged harasser
- Drafting of investigatory report which may include background, statement of complaint, summary of interviews, findings of fact, legal analysis, conclusions and recommendations (if requested)
- Follow-up with client regarding recommendations and how to implement them