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New age of employee complaints and whistleblowing

Focus on five

Highly public cases have proliferated in recent months involving workplace improprieties, hostile work environments, and allegations from the distant past. In some instances, executives and board members have mishandled matters, increasing exposure to civil and criminal liability and further harming corporate reputation. These five key insights can help equip business leaders to take immediate, actionable steps should such situations arise.

Five insights to consider

  1. Heightened workplace exposure warrants updates to corporate policies and procedures
    While many companies have a general ethics and personal conduct policy in place, recent developments provide an impetus to revisit its provisions and make updates as needed. A concurrent communication campaign can reinforce the company’s commitment to a safe and respectful work environment, as well as provide guidance on what to do when violations occur.
  2. Establishment of roles, authorities, and accountability for employment-related complaints is critical
    Most companies direct employment-related complaints to the corporate human resources (HR) function as the default lead for investigation, fact-finding, and resolution. While this is likely to remain the preferred approach in most workplace matters, the associated legal exposure suggests that companies evaluate and possibly increase the involvement of internal and external legal counsel.
  3. Presumptive investigation playbooks can help improve investigation quality and consistency
    A host of factors, including training and experience, can influence how investigators operate. Even with well-defined roles, authorities, and responsibilities, different investigators may handle their duties quite differently, including those from the same functional organization. This variability gives companies good cause to create presumptive investigation playbooks. While complete process standardization is neither possible nor desirable for internal investigations, methodically defining an orderly series of procedures upfront can enhance execution quality and consistency in the crucible of real-time investigative pressures.
  4. Specificity strengthens document procedures, observations, and dispositions
    The inherent risk and increased scrutiny of employment-related investigations create the need for careful documentation of procedures, observations, findings, and case dispositions. The accused, complainants, fact witnesses, company personnel, and directors can all be compelled to provide information at a future date—possibly years later—about the allegations, investigation process, and ultimate disposition of the matter.

Our take

A sea change is underway in the handling of workplace complaints and misconduct. With the increased awareness of workplace mistreatment and improprieties, notably provided by the internet and social media, people are more willing to bring forth allegations.

The logical and straightforward steps outlined here can help companies transform their investigation programs to meet the increased demands they are likely to face. They can enhance the quality, consistency, cost-performance, and integrity of the manner in which investigators handle the important matters entrusted to them.

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