In the business world, nothing ever seems to be black and white. Instead, the daily grind comes in many shades of gray (way more than 50!).  This too applies when a complaint is received by an employee, leaving the manager or HR representative to determine credibility of the claim and decide whether an investigation is required.

Although workplace investigations most often are thought of in regard to sexual harassment and other offensive conduct within the workplace, an investigation may be warranted and useful in the workplace even if the reported behavior does meet the legal definitions of harassment, but instead may violate company policy or standards.  Under federal law, failure to investigate and act on a complaint of discriminatory comments, improper verbal or physical contact, or even what may seem to be a few isolated jokes, may quickly develop into a harassment claim and an investigation is often required.

To determine if an investigation is warranted, ask the following 5 questions: 

 1. Did the reporting employee mention a behavior that could fit the legal definition of harassment?

    According to The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):

 “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based upon race, color, religion,

  sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older) disability or genetic

 information. Harassment becomes unlawful where: 

>Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or

>The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create awork environment that a

reasonable person would consider  intimidating, hostile or abuse.

2. Did the reporting employee mention a behavior that could fit the legal definition of discrimination?

3. Did the reporting employee mention a behavior that could describe illegal use of drugs or alcohol in the workplace?

4. Did the reporting employee mention a behavior that could lead to a potential safety or security breech?

5. In the absence of a complaint, are there signs within the workplace that would lead a reasonable employer to determine that illegal behavior of some form may be taking place in the workplace?

If you answered yes to any one of these questions, a workplace investigation must be performed. If you are still unsure, you may need to gather additional facts from the reporting employee before a decision can be made. The good news is that an investigation can quickly put a stop to unprofessional and unacceptable behavior, returning productivity in the workplace, and protecting the company from a developing legal claim.

The EEOC reported 89,385 complaints of discrimination in the workplace in 2015. The complaints come from all different company sizes, locations and industries. Don’t be a statistic. Conduct your investigations and protect your company form liability?

Be sure to keep up to date with the Investig8tr for upcoming news on InvestiPro, a soon to be released online platform that will change the way companies conduct internal investigations.