Caring about your employee complaints and investigations and responding the right way shows your workforce what they mean to you, that rules matter, and accountability from your side. This will allow your employees to know that they work in a place where they can invest in, speak up, present ideas, and be heard.
Navigate Complex Workplace Complaints with Confidence
Business leaders generally want to do the right thing for their employees, but sometimes some of them will act intentionally or unintentionally in a way that hurts others. Complaints of harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and ethical impropriety are incredibly common.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: “Employers should educate employees about their rights and responsibilities if they experience or witness conduct the employer has stated is not acceptable in the workplace. Employers should also describe the avenues offered by the employer to report unwelcome conduct and describe in simple terms how the employer’s formal complaint process will proceed.”
Steps to Respond Appropriately to a Workplace Investigation
“Workplace investigations“ generally involve obtaining and reporting “information concerning [an] employer’s employees involving questions of integrity, honesty, breach of rules, or other standards of performance of job duties.” (Cal. Business and Professions Code § 7521.)
Are You Responding Appropriately to Your Workplace Investigations?
- Respond: Taking employee complaints seriously
Different types of complaints require different initial responses. However, all employee complaints should be taken seriously – regardless of whether it’s accusations of harassment, discrimination, retaliation, ethical impropriety, or other claims. The way you respond can help defuse a tense situation or add fuel to the fire.
- Investigate: Acting proactively & ethically
The ability to react appropriately to an employee complaint depends on understanding what happened. However, uncovering those facts often requires a neutral, experienced investigator.
- Mediate: Towards a resolution
Employee complaints can be incredibly disruptive to the workplace and financially devastating to an organization – especially if they aren’t handled properly. After the investigation is complete, the goals shift towards negotiating a solution and resolving the issue so that all parties can move forward.
- Remediate: Fixing the core issues & mitigating
Once a workplace dispute is resolved, it’s time to implement a strategy for reducing the likelihood of a similar complaint in the future.
Most Common Workplace Investigations Complaints
Happy employees don’t sue but maintaining a harmonious work environment can be difficult. Lawsuits can be prevented if you have a prevention program and a workplace complaints management partner.
- Discrimination. This occurs when an employee is treated differently due to their national origin, skin color, religion, disability, etc.
- Sexual harassment. This one represents almost 30% of workplace complaints. In California, businesses with 5+ employees are legally required to train ALL their supervisors and staff on Sexual Harassment Prevention.
- Whistleblower retaliation. Anyone who notices or suspects their employer of violating the law can report it to the proper authorities without fear of retaliation. It is illegal for an employer to treat an employee differently for becoming a whistleblower.
- Nepotism. A federal place of employment must allow everyone an equal opportunity to gain employment there. Nepotism is the act of choosing a friend, relative, or close family member over another candidate for employment, promotion, or bonuses solely due to relations.
- Wage Law Violations. Many lawsuits filed against employers are based on allegations that the employer violated a federal, State, or local wage law. These laws are collectively called wage and hour laws.
California employment laws require an employer to conduct a “prompt and thorough” investigation of any alleged conduct. Failing to investigate after a claim exposes the employer to subsequent legal action. Every employer should have a licensed investigative resource on tap because you will not have a sufficient opportunity to conduct the research and selection process when the need arises.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin
Mistakes to Avoid When Conducting an Investigation
How you respond can help diffuse a tense situation, or it can add fuel to the fire. These are the top three problems found in California Courts:
- Delayed investigation
- Improperly designated investigator, such as an internal investigator having a conflict of interest.
- Unqualified designated investigator. The investigator must be either a licensed CA attorney or a licensed CA private investigator with workplace investigation experience.
How to Conduct a Good Investigation?
Work promptly: A prompt response makes the difference.
Conduct a complete investigation:
- Follow a standardized procedure: It helps make execution easier and the investigation more objective.
- Choose a licensed investigator: Hire an outside party for very serious allegations.
- Interview: The investigator should identify and interview all the parties related to the complaint.
- Document: Document everything. This includes verbal communications, supporting documents, witness statements, investigation summaries, and your organization’s responses.
- Conclude: Based on the evidence you gather, your organization needs to make an action plan to prevent future problems and follow up with the reporter about the findings of the investigation and your organization’s response.
Who Can Perform Workplace Investigations?
Under California law, unless the person who conducts the workplace investigation is a licensed private investigator or qualifies for an exemption, conducting such an investigation is prohibited by law. (Cal. B&P Code § 7523, et seq.) These requirements apply to investigations performed by both private and public employers.
There are two categories of exemptions that have an application to workplace investigations. The first is attorneys. Under the law, attorneys “performing his or her duties as an attorney at law” are exempt from having to be licensed, private investigators. (Cal. B&P Code § 7522(e).) Thus, attorneys performing their duty as attorneys are authorized by law to conduct investigations, including workplace investigations.
The second group exempt from obtaining a private investigator’s license is employees who conduct internal investigations for their employer. For example, a human resource professional. While external HR and other consultants may be willing and able to perform workplace investigations, the law prohibits them from doing so.
What Are the Consequences of Violating the Licensing Requirements?
Under California law, any person who is not exempt and not licensed and conducts an investigation is “guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of five thousand dollars ($5,000) or by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.” (Cal. B&P Code § 7523(b).) Furthermore, a person who “knowingly engages a nonexempt unlicensed person” to conduct an investigation can be subjected to the same criminal punishment. (Id.)
In addition to the potential criminal penalties, a person who engages in this conduct can have an injunction issued against them and a civil fine of up to $10,000 imposed. (Cal. B&P Code § 7523.5)
Besides the potential criminal and civil penalties, if the matter that is the subject of the investigation results in a grievance, civil service appeal, civil lawsuit, or other disputes arise regarding or out of the investigation, there is the risk that the results of the investigation will be invalidated due to its “illegality,” for being conducted by someone unauthorized. The invalidation of an investigation can have significant consequences and expose the investigator and their client to potential criminal and civil liability.
Why Choose California Labor Solutions?
At California Labor Solutions (CLS), we take HR consulting to the next level by offering affordable Premium California Licensed Workplace Investigations. We stand by your side, providing expert guidance at every step along the way – from the initial complaint through the investigation and corrective action process. We have extensive experience conducting neutral workplace investigations in a wide variety of subject areas (such as employee misconduct and employee complaints of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation) and industries (including the private sector and public/local government sector).
Our professional workplace investigators help companies meet their obligations by conducting neutral and objective investigations that are timely, fair, and thorough. We help drive the dispute toward a fair resolution and prepare a strategy to minimize future risk. Our investigative team and HR leaders use their combined expertise to develop solutions for the gaps that left you vulnerable in the first place.
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. If you need affordable premium workplace investigation services, CLS is your best option. *California Private Investigator License Number 26311.
Let’s Start the Conversation
Contact us to find out how we can help you with your current investigation needs, or partner with us now so we can respond immediately to your future time-sensitive investigation needs. Contact us today!
California Labor Solutions is a specialized HR consulting firm that provides comprehensive, personalized HR outsourcing services to organizations throughout California.