Employers are required to prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace. When an employee makes a complaint of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or a violation of any law, an employer has a legal obligation to promptly investigate the complaint. The obligation may arise even if the employee is mistaken about whether a violation of law occurred. Conducting an investigation that complies with the law, while also protecting the company and complainant, can be challenging.
The failure to conduct a comprehensive investigation can result in liability against an employer. For example, courts have held that federal law requires employers to investigate all complaints of discrimination and that the failure to do so could demonstrate pretext which may be enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Alternatively, in defending against claims of sexual harassment, employers may be able to limit liability and/or damages by asserting and then proving the affirmative defense that the employer took reasonable steps to prevent and promptly correct any harassing behavior. See Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998) and Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998).
An effective investigation helps employers: (1) identify wrongdoing, (2) guide employment decisions, (3) minimize liability, (4) reduce potential damages in litigation, (5) protect potential future victims, and (6) improve the reputation of an employer. The lawyers at BT Law Group have extensive experience advising employers on best practices for conducting internal investigations, training the investigators, and also conducting the investigation for employers and then preparing a comprehensive report which can be used to help guide the employer in determining whether any disciplinary action is appropriate. Contact a lawyer at BT Law Group to discuss the necessary steps for investigating a complaint.