Workplace Investigation FAQs
Experienced Georgia workplace investigations attorneys provide trustworthy guidance
- When should I open a workplace investigation?
- What are the steps in a workplace investigation?
- How can I prevent a hostile work environment for employees?
- Why should I use an outside investigator?
- Why use an independent investigator rather than internal affairs in law enforcement investigations?
To learn more, get help from our experienced workplace investigations attorneys today.
Contact our Atlanta attorneys for aid in workplace investigations
The attorneys at DeLong, Caldwell, Bridgers, Fitzpatrick, & Benjamin, LLC are experts at workplace investigations. We have more than 200 years of combined employment law experience and have successfully managed numerous workplace investigations. To schedule a free consultation, call our Atlanta office at 470-443-0524 or contact us online.
When should I open a workplace investigation?
Once an allegation is made, the investigation should begin as soon as possible. Delays in opening an investigation can be detrimental to the investigation process. Witnesses may leave or become unavailable. Records may be lost or destroyed. Electronic evidence may become corrupt and unusable. Individuals’ memories of important details may fade. If you need assistance with a workplace investigation, call the DCBFB attorneys for experienced investigators.
What are the steps in the workplace investigation process?
The first step is to define what is to be investigated, including any legal or regulatory limits to the investigatory methods. For example, usually the federal Polygraph Protection Act prohibits private employers from using deception-detection technology. But no similar prohibition binds state and local government employers. If a matter under investigation might have criminal law implications the employer will need to determine whether an employee’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination is implicated, and how to obtain the information without making eventual criminal prosecution impossible. If the employer has a union contract this also may have some bearing on the investigative techniques. Other questions need to be answered such as whether to allow an employee to have an employee witness, union representative, or even a personal attorney present during investigatory interviews. Should you allow an employee to record the interview? Should the employer record the interview? What assurances should you provide to the interviewee?
The next step is to prepare to conduct the interview process: The setting for the investigatory interviews is important. One needs to select a location that can ensure privacy and comfort both of the witness and the investigator. Starting usually with the accusing party, the investigator will prepare the questions carefully, examining each witness’s performance and discipline history, and staying alert to any facts or circumstances that might affect the witness’s objectivity, truthfulness, or ability to observe and reliably comment upon the alleged facts. The investigator prepares for each interview, including the accuser, the accused, and each witness they name. The investigator outlines the particular topics on which he will question each witness to ensure every fact relevant to the outcome of the investigation and the recommendations to be made is thoroughly and impartially examined.
The investigator then conducts each interview, starting usually with the accuser followed by the accused. This allows the investigator to focus the investigation, establishing reference points for broadly framing the factual issues, identifying potential witnesses, and relevant documents likely to yield useful evidence. The investigator decides when and how hard to press the witness, whether to confront them with perceived inconsistencies in their accounts, when to loop back and re-interview other witnesses. Once each individual likely to know of relevant facts has been interviewed both the accuser and the accused are assured of internal due process in the investigation, and the organization can be confident about the results reported.
Finally, the investigator prepares a report making findings and recommendations to the organization that retained him/her. The investigator’s report must ensure that the questions posed at the beginning of the investigation have been examined and must report upon them. S/he also must consider whether the report is likely to become public, such as where the investigation is conducted on behalf of a governmental employer. This will determine the phrasing and the detail included in the report and its recommendations.
How can I prevent a hostile work environment for employees?
Our firm counsels employers on the adoption of proactive measures they can take to avoid legal liability and to avert potential management problems, including:
- Using employee handbooks and other methods of employee communication to clarify that unethical or illegal conduct such as unlawful discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated and will be stopped.
- Establishing anti-discrimination training for managers and employees.
- Making sure that all employees, managers, and executives understand the process for reporting complaints and their individual responsibilities when they learn of such complaints or problems.
We offer comprehensive reviews of company policies and can guide you about other possible prevention strategies.
Why should I use an outside investigator?
Private businesses don’t usually maintain trained investigators on their staffs. Even if they do, leaving the investigation to inside employees opens the results to the appearances of bias, and cover-up. Utilizing outside investigators assures more independence and objectivity in the investigatory process. This affords greater credibility to the results. Outside investigators are less susceptible to control or influence from managers or executives having an interest in the outcome. Their loyalty is owed to the organization that hires them to find the unvarnished truth about the investigation. Outside investigators can ask the hard questions that insider investigators would hesitate to examine. This allows them to expose matters that powerful executives would prefer to keep hidden for reasons that do not serve the organization’s best interests.
Why use an independent investigator rather than internal affairs in law enforcement investigations?
Different types of issue require different types of investigative expertise. Like any public employer, the police department can be investigated for many violations, including but not limited to whistle blower complaints, unlawful discrimination, harassment charges, wage-hour violations and unlawful retaliation. Most law enforcement departments maintain internal bureaus or offices to investigate police misconduct. These commonly are designated the “Internal Affairs Office” or “Office of Professional Standards.” Individuals assigned to these offices are specially trained to investigate and determination whether law enforcement officers have violated criminal laws or their departments’ internal standing orders or standard operating procedures.
Internal affairs investigators are excellent at investigating allegations of criminal and other misconduct involving law enforcement ethics. These investigators frequently receive specialized POST-certified training that focuses on criminal and internal administrative matters. However, they usually receive little or no training in employment or labor law issues. Thus, they are not equipped to inquire into whistle blower complaints, unlawful discrimination, or harassment charges. Claims of wage-hour law violations, and unlawful retaliation usually are beyond what they learn in most internal affairs investigation courses. Our firm is uniquely equipped to assist law enforcement agencies in such cases. Our attorneys are experts in federal and state labor and employment law –especially those laws and regulations affecting police and sheriff’s agencies.