Workplace Investigations

Sooner or later, almost every employer will face the need to investigate one or more of its employees. Workplace investigations run the gamut and include, but are not limited to, employees who are stealing property from a worksite, theft of time and abuse of sick leave, workplace violence and threats, discrimination, disparate treatment, and harassment complaints.

Employee Theft Investigations

Every year companies lose up to $40 BILLION to employee theft.

Employee theft can take many forms, from stealing office equipment or merchandise, to stealing time by improperly reporting sick leave and vacation, to stealing intellectual property and confidential information. A recent report by the US Chamber of Commerce revealed that one out of four employees steals something from their employer in any given year. While employers sometimes see clues, often these thefts and fraud schemes go largely unnoticed and result in considerable loss before they are detected.

If you suspect that employees or acquaintances of your employees (very common), are stealing from your business, Babnick and Associates can develop an investigative plan to determine who is responsible. Sometimes, it is the last person you might expect. Once the thieves are identified, Babnick and Associates will provide you with a confidential report detailing the evidence against the culprits. As the employer, you are free to take whatever action you wish. If you decide to initiate criminal prosecution, Babnick and Associates can help you present the evidence to the police and prosecutor. Or, you may just decide to fire the thieving employee or take some other action. That decision is totally up to you as the employer.

Human Resource Investigations

Employment law requires certain workplace complaints be investigated. Failing to conduct a timely and adequate investigation can have serious legal consequences. Most employers, whether they are a large employer with hundreds of employees or just a small business with only a few employees, understand that employment laws require them to conduct timely and impartial investigations when certain complaints or circumstances come to their attention or when they should have been aware of certain situations. The fact that the employee is a “chronic complainer” or a malcontent and may state they do not even want an investigation, does not absolve the employer from the duty to investigate. Courts have placed increasing responsibility on employers to conduct timely investigations of alleged violations of employment laws in the workplace. An employer’s defense in seeking to minimize both liability and damages in these situations often depends on its prompt corrective action. This process begins with a comprehensive and impartial investigation so that the employer can make informed decisions and take corrective actions, if necessary. There are a number of instances when an investigation is required or advisable. These situations include, but are not limited to:

  • Employee complaints of harassment.
    • Includes employees harassing other employees, supervisors harassing employees, or any type of sexual, gender, religious, or racial harassment.
  • Employee complaints of discrimination and disparate treatment.
  • Employee reports of retaliation in the workplace.
  • Employee complaints of hostile work environment.
  • Safety issues and accidents.
  • Whistle- blowing complaints.

Allegations of wrongdoing in the workplace – even those that initially appear insignificant and isolated, should not be ignored or trivialized. When faced with allegations of improper conduct, a company will be judged by both how it responds to the situation and the action it takes to address and prevent recurrence. Employers that fail to conduct a fair, complete, and impartial investigation can face legal sanctions from state and federal regulatory agencies and expose themselves to losing any claims or lawsuits brought by the employee in response to the problem.

Selecting the right investigator is vitally important

Companies are responsible for ensuring that investigations are conducted properly, fairly, and in accordance with employment laws. A properly conducted investigation can help a company identify and prevent a problem from becoming a bigger liability.

This makes the selection of the investigator of paramount importance. One wrong move and the entire investigation could be compromised, negatively impacting the reputation of the company and increasing the risk of a lawsuit or sanctions from a government regulatory agency. Some companies use employees from their Human Resources department to conduct workplace complaint investigations and other companies use attorneys. Both of these options have big drawbacks.

Many HR employees have little or no formal investigative training and limited experience in conducting these unique and complex investigations. Because they are employees of the company their investigations may also be clouded by conscious and unconscious bias. The same is true for most attorneys. Law school does not train attorneys how to conduct investigations. Although they can often muddle through an investigation (at considerable cost to the company) utilizing an attorney to conduct an investigation, oftentimes results in the attorney becoming a witness to the allegations. Because of attorney professional responsibility rules, this means if you require legal counsel you may not be able to use that attorney and your business may even be barred from using any other attorney in the firm. Because of these considerations, it is often best to go outside the company and select an investigator who can fairly and independently conduct the investigation without any perceived bias or legal complications.

When selecting the best investigator for your workplace investigations you need to take the investigators level of knowledge and experience into consideration. All workplace investigations undertaken by Babnick and Associates are personally handled – from start to finish, by Chief Investigator George Babnick. Mr. Babnick has received extensive formal training in workplace investigations and worked for years in the Portland Police Bureau’s Internal Affairs Division where he conducted complex internal workplace investigations on a daily basis. During his years as an investigator, Mr. Babnick received commendations for his investigative excellence and taught internal workplace investigations to Portland area law enforcement investigators. Even after he was promoted to management positions he continued to conduct and review some of the more complex and sensitive high-level workplace investigations in the Portland Police Bureau.

An employee complaint about a workplace issue is serious business and can have far reaching consequences. More and more employers are recognizing that an impartial investigation, conducted by an independent investigator with a proven track record of conducting sensitive workplace investigations, is critical in demonstrating that they took the allegations seriously and responded appropriately.

For a fee consultation about your workplace investigative needs call or email George Babnick today.