The Importance of Neutral Third Party Investigations
As HR professionals, we have all found ourselves in the position of having to investigate complaints of potential wrongdoing. And certainly we all know that employers are specifically required to investigate allegations of harassment or discrimination. All such investigations should be prompt, neutral, thorough and effective. There are many common mistakes that employers make when conducting investigations, but failing to use an experienced 3rd-party investigator may be the most critical. As Mike Trachtman (MEA’s General Counsel) would say, this falls into the don’t try this at home category.
Utilizing a third party investigator provides the necessary assurance that there can be no basis for a potential claim that the employer failed to perform an adequate investigation. The person conducting the investigation should be trained on how to properly and thoroughly conduct the investigation in a way that is “neutral,” or not seen as having a stake in the outcome of the investigation.
When faced with a situation that legally requires an investigation, MEA Members should not hesitate to call upon MEA to act as a third party investigator. MEA consultants have a wealth of HR experience, expertise, and resources, and also fit the requirement of being “neutral” to the outcome of the situation.
A Case Study
Recently a Member company who utilized MEA’s investigation services, found out that MEA does indeed “come to the rescue.” An employee raised the issue of harassment in the workplace and they needed IMMEDIATE HELP, as the individual was quite disruptive. Like many mid-market organizations, this company did not have an HR person on staff and were directed to MEA by Mike Trachtman, MEA’s general counsel.
Due to the volatility of the situation, it was immediately apparent that MEA had to get someone onsite to assess the situation immediately. I was dispatched to investigate what the issues were and to learn as much as possible about the potential harassment situation. The process began with interviews of all involved parties:
- The office manager – to get an overview of the company and learn what the circumstances were surrounding the harassment accusations
- The employee who claimed harassment to gain his account of the situation, assure him he was being heard, and that the company was taking the matter seriously
- Other employees – to give their account of the situation and an overview of the last several months from their perspectives
Like any organization, this company could not afford to have this matter publicly detract from their operations, as clients were present. In this type of public setting, having an experienced 3rd party present can really help calm an unpredictable situation, help promote a safe work environment, and reassure other employees.
The investigation was concluded within the day, an executive summary was prepared, and in partnership with MEA’s General Counsel, the company was given advice on handling the matter. Although the charges turned out to be unfounded, the situation could have negatively impacted the work environment and disrupted the business. Because the company recognized the seriousness of the situation, and did not try to deal with it themselves, they saved themselves from what could have turn into a huge headache.
Having MEA on-call to deal with serious HR matters such as accusations of harassment is almost a no-brainer. Availability of well-seasoned HR professionals who have dealt with tough situations in the past is a welcomed solution and is just one facet of the variety of services that MEA membership affords.