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Memo to Managers
You’ve Received an Allegation of Misconduct—Now What?
Most executives in management positions are problem solvers. Generally, this is a good thing! But when it comes to handling allegations of workplace misconduct, the urge to proactively “problem solve” can have extremely negative consequences.
When a manager acts independently to investigate alleged misconduct—that is, without first coordinating with legal, compliance and/or human resource departments—they may inadvertently be violating a variety of laws. And even if their informal investigation does not violate any laws, they could be undermining the success of any subsequent “official” investigation.
As a manager, you don’t need to know the details of case law or the names of the underlying statutes that protect employees. But you do need to know what to do—and not do— when you become aware of an allegation. Below are guidelines to follow when you receive an allegation:
- Don’t promise complete confidentiality to an employee who reports a concern to you. There may well be a need—either under the law or your organization’s policies and procedures—to alert others within the organization to the concern. Many times, this is not only to protect the employee raising the concern but also to protect others in the workplace. Failure to tell HR, legal, or compliance teams about it might result in further harm to the reporter and/or to others. At most, tell the reporting employee that you will keep the matter as private as possible, but may need to alert others in the organization.
- Don’t start your own investigation, including interviewing witnesses, checking email, or searching the workplace. Interviews and electronic or physical searches may well violate an employee’s right to privacy. The laws relating to privacy are complicated and sometimes counterintuitive. Never conduct a workplace search without prior approval from your legal team.
- Don’t assume you know what’s really going on. It’s all too easy for managers to assume, based on prior experience, that they know whether or not an allegation is true. Sometimes we think we’ve “seen it all before” view a person as a “complainer” who is simply seeking attention. Assumptions like these are big mistakes. Treat every allegation impartially and with an open mind.
- Don’t share the details of an allegation with anyone unless they have a legitimate need to know. This can be difficult—it can be hard not to share “juicy” information. But don’t do it.
- Do secure evidence that might be destroyed before an investigator can get ahold of it. While it may not be appropriate to review documents or images stored on an employee’s work laptop, you generally will be able to retrieve the laptop and give it to your legal or security team.
- Do check with your compliance, HR or legal teams if you have any doubts about what you should or should not do. Let them make the hard decisions. You can then help follow through as needed.
Giving your employees confidence that workplace investigations will be handled well—and doing your best to follow the law, as well as your organization’s guidelines for investigations—is a critical part of helping your organization strengthen its culture of ethics and respect.
Questions of the Month
Q: An employee told me that a colleague has been sharing sensitive information on a password-protected website. Can I ask that employee to give me her username and password?
A: In many parts of the world, including the U.S., asking for such information can be problematic. You may view your request as just that—a request. But the employee may feel that she has no choice and a court may see your “request” as coercion. Before you ask for access, get your legal team involved.
Q: Two employees got into a physical altercation at work earlier today. I immediately intervened and had them work in different parts of our facility for the rest of the day. They seemed to have cooled down now. Did I do the right thing?
A: When it comes to some situations, immediate action is essential. Unless you put yourself or others at significant risk by directly intervening, you did well to diffuse the situation and to take steps to prevent further conflict. But, even though the employees have “cooled down,” your job is not done. Make sure HR and perhaps your security department are informed right away. Workplace violence is a critical issue and it is important that those with expertise are alerted as soon as possible.
In this online training seminar you will receive useful tips to effectively investigate alleged workplace misconduct. The three-day course is not only helpful, it is also engaging and entertaining! You will enjoy listening to real-life examples from NAVEX Global expert Andy Foose's past investigations. As he walks you through each step in the process, you will have opportunities to ask questions and predict the outcome for each scenario.
Using Compliance Communicator
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