Workplace Investigations of “Hostile Work Environment” Complaints

The fallout of harassment, discrimination and retaliation complaints and investigations can be just plain ugly.

Take for instance a recent article on a governmental entity’s response to a complaint against elected officials.  In this case, a Human Resources professional alleged retaliation, among other issues, against three elected officials.  The article suggests that the Interim Manager conducted the investigation into the allegations…that were made against his “bosses.”  His conclusion was that no “illegal” conduct occurred, but no other mention was made (at least in the article) as to the other allegations that the initial complaint appeared to make.

This one is just ugly.  Not only is the appearance of an unbiased investigation destroyed by not using an independent investigation, but the investigation appears to have been so narrow that it ignored some of the  factual allegations that were made altogether.   It is doubtful that the complaining employee will be satisfied with this scenario – not because her allegations were not substantiated, but because the process used appears to be flawed and incomplete.

Employers should follow-up with employee complaints of harassment, retaliation and discrimination promptly.  However, employers also should take the time to assess who should follow-up or more formally investigate the complaint before taking matters into their own hands.  Complaints against high-level officials, such as the case here, almost always should involve an external, impartial evaluation by a third-party investigator.  To do otherwise leaves the nearly irrefutable conclusion that the investigation was flawed and biased from the outset.

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