The legal impact of a flawed workplace investigation
A healthy workplace is built on trust.
Employees give their time and effort to support the productivity of an organization and, in return, they are given the space and confidence to offer concerns and know they will be dealt with appropriately. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Or it should be.
So what happens to that trust when an employee does raise a concern that triggers a workplace investigation?
If it’s done properly — the Method way — that trust is protected, if not enhanced. Instead of feeling anxious and worried about their jobs and spreading rumours at the virtual water cooler, employees are engaged in the process, feeling supported in their work and confident in their employer doing the right thing.
There is also less of a likelihood that the organization will end up in court with a wrongful dismissal lawsuit on their ends.
When workplace investigations end up in court
It’s simple. Workplace conflicts can end up in court. If the investigation is flawed, there is a considerable opportunity for someone to mount a defence and overturn the organizational decision.
Let’s look at a real world example from one of our Method investigators:
There were two students* at a post-secondary school that took classes together; Jack liked Jane, but she wasn’t interested. She consistently turned down offers to go for coffee, drinks or on a date.
Just before finals one year, Jack went to the bar at lunch and drank heavily. He skipped classes that afternoon but at the end of the day, late on a Friday afternoon, he went and followed Jane out of the building.
After a few minutes, she was in a treed, isolated and empty part of campus. Jack ran up behind her, tackled her and began to rip her clothes off. Fortunately, someone walked by and stopped the assault.
Jane was injured and very badly shaken. Jack ran away but was reported to security.
After an investigation, Jack was expelled. He appealed the expulsion decision to the courts and lost.
Courts do not re-investigate when a decision is appealed. They look at whether the investigation was fair and well conducted. In this instance, the proper investigatory steps were followed and the decision was upheld.
On the flip side, if an investigation is flawed, the courts can (and often will), overturn the decision and require a new investigation.
If Jack had won in the courts, he would have been allowed back into the classroom during the new investigation, right alongside Jane whom he had victimized.
From the costs of a new investigation, to the erosion of trust with your employees and the public damage to your reputation, organizations will find themselves mopping up after a flawed workplace investigation for many years to come.
*Names are fictional