Why Investigate Workplace Complaints

Employee issues come up all the time.  Often clients ask: “Do we have to investigate?”

Not every issue or minor workplace complaint merits an investigation.  Managers often resist conducting an investigation because it is disruptive; it can make a mountain out of a molehill; and the fear that if one complaint that is investigated might lead to further complaints, each of which may also need to be investigated.  These are good reasons not to investigate every complaint. On the other hand, failure to investigate a legitimate complaint creates significant risk for employers.

Workplace Complaint Investigation is Mandatory in California

Despite all the mandatory sexual harassment training conducted in California, many managers seem not to understand the absolute requirement of conducting investigations in California.  Failure to conduct a proper and neutral investigation of a complaint can result in the inability of an employer to assert an affirmative defense against claims of sexual harassment.  This means that even if there was a policy in the employee handbook, and training had been conducted, failure to investigate an obvious complaint of harassment can make a sexual harassment lawsuit impossible to defend leading to strict liability.

Quality Investigations Send the Right Message to Employees

While no employer seeks a workplace investigation, a fair and impartial investigation can send exactly the right message to employees.  The investigation, even if conducted internally, tells the complainant and other employees that the matter has been taken seriously.  The fact is that management does not and cannot know all that goes on in an organization.  A quality investigation can also validate the policies and processes outlined in the employee handbook.  Finally, a proper investigation demonstrates that the employer values a harmonious and harassment-free workplace for all.

Also a workplace investigation can expose childish or political issues, leading to improved communication and settlement of long- festering workplace disputes.

Investigation Basics

Much has been written and can be found on how to conduct a proper investigation.  There are certain attributes of a quality investigation that can be highlighted.

  1. In general, at least notes should be kept, if not an investigation report written.
  2. If an investigation looks serious, or becomes serious, legal counsel should be brought in sooner rather than later.
  3. Investigators should prepare questions in advance and often the best investigation questions are “open ended”. Investigators should listen, listen, and observe non-  verbal cues or body language.
  4. All relevant witnesses should be interviewed. This doesn’t mean that absolutely everyone in the company must be interviewed, but it does mean that obvious witnesses should not be ignored or swept under the rug.
  5. The investigator should not insert his or her own opinion or conclusions. The investigator should examine the facts with an open mind. (Our firm has conducted multiple investigations and we have been surprised more than once that the real facts turn out to be not as they initially appeared.)
  6. Always report back to the complainant – even if no violations were found or the evidence was inconclusive.


As an employer, if you receive a complaint and you suspect that it may need investigation, we highly recommend that you err in favor of investigating the complaint.    An impartial and reasonable investigation need not be as disruptive as many executives and managers fear and the consequences for failing to investigate are draconian for employers, particularly in California.  Not only can a failure to investigate create liability which cannot be defended, the failure to act on a complaint or issue sends all the wrong messages to your workforce.

Paul Finkle, CMC, SPHR – Executive Vice President

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals.

Bay Area Human Resources Services

An Overarching Technology Strategy is Overdue in Most Organizations

Many organizations do not have sufficient technology strategies to prepare them for the next five years, according to a recent article published in the Society for Human Resources Management bulletin.

HR is often limited in terms of technology resources and not adequately consulted by IT when designing and developing an IT architecture /strategy.  In the HR world, the clear trend is to consolidate tech systems.  For example, with systems like Paycom or ADP Workforce Now, HR, payroll and benefits are integrated into one cloud-based database.  Most employers, however, do not have systems connected in HR, let alone in the other key areas of the organization.

Sadly, only 34% of companies say that they are building an IT architecture strategy according to a survey of 500 firms by CompTIA.

“Organizations see real benefits from better planning, such as improved collaboration between IT and business teams and a greater ability to evaluate current technologies against long-term objectives and to prioritize investments,” said Seth Robinson, Senior Director of Technology Analysis at CompTIA.  In the most progressive companies, there is a partnership between IT and HR because HR is considered to be the voice of employees and managers who must utilize and leverage the company’s technology systems.

The Challenges of Connecting IT, HR and Enterprise Systems

According to the CompTIA survey, here are the major challenges involved in planning a comprehensive IT infrastructure and implementing change:

  • 4 in 10 companies identify the lack of budget as the reason for having not invested in new technology.
  • 1/3 of the firms say they do not have adequate knowledge of emerging technologies and new trends in order to incorporate them into how their employees work.
  • Many firms do not have adequate training and adoption of existing systems, let alone a strategy to connect systems to support future strategic goals.

Historically, enterprise architecture strategy has been confined to large organizations with the resources to investigate, plan and implement IT support for the future.  The general concept however, which involves planning how to align business objectives with technical infrastructure is a process that virtually every company can benefit from, according to CompTIA.


As more and more devices become “smart” and technology transforms industry after industry, the alignment of organization strategy and the systems required to support it must be discussed and agreed upon. If technology is allowed to simply “morph” over time, frustration and inefficiency are the most likely outcomes.

This situation is virtually universal.  In many industries, what was formerly manual labor has become computer- assisted manual labor.  The education and technical qualifications are driving changes in the caliber of workforce and are beginning more and more to demand an integrated technology architecture strategy.  Business units, as well as corporate, overall want systems that talk to each other, have single sign-on and have well thought out automated workflows.  These initiatives require comprehensive organization planning, a continuing knowledge of technology, and an increasing share of an organization’s budget.

Paul Finkle, CMC, SPHR – Executive Vice President

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals.

Bay Area Human Resources Services