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Legal Insider: Employment Investigations in the Workplace

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

We have represented both employees and employers in connection with employment investigations. This article talks about the issues involved when an employer conducts an investigation in the workplace. Employers conduct workplace investigations into employee complaints generally because they can face legal consequences if they do not do so.

As an example, if an individual alleges sex harassment or discrimination at work and the claims are not investigated, an employer can be more readily held liable by employees. The same type of investigation is necessary when dealing with claims of whistleblowing or other alleged inappropriate conduct at work.

What Happens During a Workplace Investigation

Usually, in most employment investigations, the employer will usually hire an outside law firm (or occasionally use internal counsel) to conduct an employment investigation and will act as the investigator.

Once the investigator is appointed, they will start their investigation. Keep in mind that the employer’s goal in these investigations is to minimize liability for the employer.

While an investigator may find an individual employee at fault, the investigator ultimately wants to find and document that no fault on the part of an employer occurred.

The following steps usually take place in an employer investigation:

  1. The investigator reviews the complaint and plans for a thorough investigation;
  2. The investigator interviews the complainant or complainants;
  3. The investigator interviews the employees with knowledge of the issues in the complaint;
  4. The investigator interviews the accused employee or employees;
  5. The investigator conducts follow-up interviews of any witnesses as needed;
  6. The investigator reviews any relevant documentation, emails or other evidence involving the complaint;
  7. The investigator issues a final report with recommendations to an employer.

Results of Workplace Investigation

Once the employer’s investigation is over, the results can vary. A report is usually prepared, along with recommendations on actions to be potentially taken.

The investigation can result in the termination or other discipline for an accused employee. The investigation can also vindicate the accused employee.

An employer must be careful in avoiding retaliation against a complaining employee, even when their complaint is found to not be justified.

Each investigation is different, and different employers vary in how they handle workplace investigations. The proper handling of an employment investigation can protect employees in the workplace and also reduce employer liability.

Conclusion

If an employee or employer needs assistance with an employment investigation or other issue, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or at our website to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or connect with us on Twitter.

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