California employment laws require employers to conduct a “prompt, impartial, and thorough” employee complaint investigation of allegations involving claims of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, or misconduct that could violate the company’s policies.
Failing to conduct a workplace investigation after the employer is on notice of an employee complaint alleging the above stated claims may expose businesses to subsequent legal action. Different types of complaints require different initial responses. However, all employee complaints need to be taken seriously.
In this article, we will explore some recommended practices for conducting workplace investigations in California:
Workplace investigations should be impartial. Findings should be based on objective weighing of the evidence collected. It is essential that the person conducting the investigation assesses whether they have any biases that would interfere with coming to a fair and impartial finding and, if the investigator cannot be neutral, to find a third party to conduct the investigation. Even if investigators determine they can be neutral and impartial, they must evaluate whether their involvement will create the perception of bias.
In addition, it is generally a bad idea to have someone investigate a situation where either the complainant or accused party has more authority in the organization than the investigator.
Do not reach Legal Conclusions
It is considered a recommended practice for investigators to reach factual conclusions rather than legal conclusions. Sometimes, investigators will also conclude whether the behavior did or did not violate a company policy. Please note that one reason investigators should not make legal findings is that violating a workplace policy is typically a different (usually higher) standard than violating the law.
Investigators should carefully and objectively document witness interviews, the findings, and the steps taken to investigate what has been alleged in an employee complaint. Investigators have different methods of documenting interviews, including taking notes (handwritten or on a computer), drafting statements for witnesses to sign, obtaining witness statements (written by the witness), or audio recording.
Each method has pros and cons, and any can be acceptable as long as the information gathered is reliable, thoroughly documented, and not altered. It is recommended to retain all documentation, including handwritten notes.
Why Choose California Labor Solutions?
California Labor Solutions (CLS) is an HR services firm that was established in 2007. From investigating employee complaints to employment law compliance, our team has a solutions-driven approach to bring clarity and support for the challenges facing California employers.
California Labor Solutions is one of the only HR firms in California that is licensed* to provide external workplace investigations. Avoid the risk and do it right the first time. CLS is your best option for affordable, premium workplace investigation services.
*California Private Investigator License Number 26311.