I recently had an opportunity to sit down with the CEO of a large global company. I asked him if he could describe what types of safeguards and procedures were in place to ensure his company wasn’t the next big headline – particularly as it related to employee relations issues. How did his HR department handle workplace investigations? How were they documented? He replied that he honestly had no idea, but agreed to question his HR VP to get some answers to questions I provided. A few days later, he emailed to tell me that he was both alarmed and disappointed by the answers he received to questions, such as:
1. How many investigations did we conduct this year into employee claims of wrongdoing such as harassment, discrimination, unfair treatment, theft?
“I don’t know,” or “We don’t keep track,” is not acceptable. Not only is the number of investigations a measure of risk but also a measure of the overall work climate. Trending this data over time, comparisons to other similar situations within the organization can provide a wealth of insight enhance workplace satisfaction, identify opportunity areas and increase productivity. And unless you are a very small organization, “We don’t have any issues” Is not only inaccurate but also ignorant.
2. Do we have a standard methodology that we follow for conducting each internal investigation?
Every company should have a standard methodology in place to investigate employee claims of wrongdoing or harassment. Whether you have 50 or 50,0000 employees you know need to know what you are going to do when faced with an allegation of misconduct or wrongdoing. Don’t wait until it happens. In today’s economic climate, wrongful termination suits, discrimination and retaliation claims are on the rise. You have to be prepared. Consistency, comprehensiveness and fair processes will be examined by the courts and certainly pressed by any plaintiffs’ attorney when they have a chance.
3. Will we have the documentation we need to defend an employment action?
The answer will probably be, “Of course.” My advice is to trust but verify. Explore the process. Ask for metrics. Ask to look at a few recent investigation files or just basic employee documentation. Or ask your HR VP when the last time he/she did an audit. Once the legal process starts, you have what you have like it or not.
And if you are an HR VP reading this, how would you answer these questions if your CEO asked? Are you prepared?