Workplace Investigations and Dispute Resolution Services
Every employer has a story – that crazy situation that comes to a manager’s attention at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday, or a situation that “explodes” after apparently brewing for months with no one telling human resources. Two managers fighting about their “roles” in a major project that the company has been working on for a year and is about to roll out. Even worse – the Controller is trying to get payroll, quarterly reporting, and budgeting done all at once and someone reports that they have been “harassed and intimidated” at work for months and demand immediate action. The situation seems, and often is, overwhelming. Employers often cannot or do not want to investigate these situations themselves or simply want someone else to give some perspective into what to do. An employer’s biggest asset but largest source of risk is its employees.
Employers must be able to manage every type of employee dispute – everything from harassment and discrimination claims, to workplace gossip which turns into something larger, to claims of workplace “bullying” and “hostile work environment,” to dealing with employees who simply cannot get along but must find a way to work together. Although discrimination certainly exists and should not be tolerated, many employers face allegations of “harassment” and “discrimination” from employees simply by enforcing “neutral” employment policies. Employees who are the recipients of legitimate workplace criticism often claim to be “bullied” or the victims of a “hostile work environment.”
ELDI focuses on protecting employers from disruptive and damaging workplace claims of all types. We work with employers when faced with employee claims, guiding employers through the investigation, discipline, workplace resolution process, and any litigation which results. Not every claim requires a major investigation; some claims can be dealt with immediately and effectively without hauling every employee on a shift into HR for interviews. Some claims do require extensive investigation, particularly when an employee seems to be “setting up” an employer for a later claim. ELDI does not take a “one size fits all” approach to workplace investigations and disputes. Employers know their businesses and employees. ELDI works within your business to create a custom solution without being overly intrusive and with a focus on restoring workplace productivity.
ELDI REPRESENTATIVE INVESTIGATIONS AND DISPUTE RESOLUTION SERVICES:
Termination of employee for performance after report of alleged “hostile work environment”: An underperforming employee was given mediocre performance reviews, but supervisor did not give a completely honest review in order to avoid “discouraging” the employee. The employee finally realized that she was not well regarded and had been caught making multiple mistakes in her work, and the employee filed a claim of “hostile work environment” with the HR manager. We counseled the employer on how to investigate the employee’s claim and how to obtain the employee’s admission of her mistakes to permit termination with minimal risk of a future claim by the employee.
Attendance issues with employees on Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave: Employers often face uncertainty, staffing problems, and morale issues when employees are permitted to take FMLA leave for medical conditions that arise sporadically. Those issues are compounded when the employee taking leave has created problems or had attendance issues in the past and doctors often readily excuse employees from work without providing any substantive information justifying the need for leave. A pregnant employee claimed to need FMLA leave to treat for issues related to her pregnancy every Friday in the summer beginning at 1:00 p.m., and posted about her weekend trips to the shore on social media. We lead the employer’s investigation of the employee’s claimed need for FMLA leave and positioned the employer to terminate the employee for FMLA abuse without further legal claims.
Investigation of harassment claim against supervisor in former consensual relationship with subordinate employee: A female employee reported alleged harassment to HR, stating that her male supervisor had been asking her on dates and sending her inappropriate text messages. We conducted an internal workplace investigation including witness interviews and a review of workplace surveillance tapes. In response to the investigation, the female employee admitted that she and her supervisor were in a consensual relationship and the female employee claimed harassment after supervisor terminated that relationship. We handled terminations of both employees for failure to follow company policy and conducted management training regarding appropriate supervisor conduct and the obligation of supervisors to protect employers from liability.
Defense of age discrimination claim after employee announces “retirement”: An employee announced his retirement from long time position of employment. The employer accepted the retirement notice, planned a “retirement party” for employee, and interviewed candidates to fill the retiring employee’s position. The retiring employee changed his mind and asked for his job back. The employer refused as the company had made alternate staffing arrangements and adjusted workload responsibilities. The employee sued for age discrimination, claiming that the employee had been subjected to discriminatory comments about his age and was forced to retire. We investigated the employee’s claims and successfully defended the employer in proceedings before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Resolution of multiple co-worker dispute where employee made racially insensitive remarks: An employee made multiple racially insensitive remarks, which the employee stated were simply her repetition of insensitive remarks made by third persons not employed by the employer at issue. Multiple employees overheard the insensitive remarks and reported those remarks to management, claiming that the remarks made them uncomfortable and unwilling to work with the employee who made the remarks. We conducted an investigation of the remarks and led a workplace dispute resolution process by which all employees had the opportunity to voice their feelings and workplace relations were restored without any terminations or subsequent lawsuits.
Investigation of “national origin” discrimination claim where employee claimed discrimination on the basis of prejudice and dislike between foreign nations: An employee reported discrimination by his supervisor, claiming that the supervisor was from an African nation which had a reputation for being hostile toward citizens from the reporting employee’s Central American nation. The reporting employee claimed that he could not work under the supervisor. We investigated the claim, found no improper conduct by the supervisor, documented the investigation, and counseled the employee about the supervisor’s role to provide appropriate feedback regarding the employee’s work. The employee later resigned and filed a discrimination charge with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission claiming to have been the victim of discrimination on the basis of national origin. We successfully defended the employer on the basis of the investigation including documentation of the employee’s performance, witness interviews, and treatment of the employee after the investigation.
Investigation of religious discrimination claim where employee accepted job offer knowing that she would be required to work on days she observed the Sabbath: Employee accepted a job offer after being told that the job would require her to work weekends and evenings because of the nature of the employer’s business operations. After accepting the job, the employee demanded to have part of every weekend off so that she could attend religious services as a religious accommodation. We counseled the employer regarding communications with the employee to protect the employer against a discrimination claim.
Resolution of dispute between Vice President of HR and subordinate HR manager: A growing company hired a Vice President of HR and maintained several HR managers to oversee HR functions for separate divisions of the company in different locations. The Vice President of HR was hired from outside of the company and the HR managers all were existing employees, some of whom had been with the company for a long time. Shortly after the Vice President of HR came on board, disputes developed between the Vice President of HR and one of the HR managers who argued that “we don’t do things this way” when the Vice President of HR attempted to make changes. We met with both the Vice President of HR and the HR manager and facilitated a resolution to the dispute, enabling the new Vice President to make changes needed for legal compliance while acknowledging the need to honor company culture and implement change in such a way as to create less friction with the HR manager and the employees overall.
Investigation of “bullying” and “hostile work environment” claim by less experienced worker against senior manager: An employee hired for her first job out of college claimed that she was being bullied and subjected to a hostile work environment by her manager, a senior management level employee. We met with the employee and learned that her claims all stemmed from the fact that the manager had been reviewing the employee’s performance, and the employee was not accustomed to regular management reviews of performance objectives and production goals. We counseled the employee on understanding management expectations and the role of management in providing criticism of workplace performance. We counseled the manager on better ways to review performance and communicate workplace expectations, particularly with employees who are less experienced and new to the workforce. We later conducted anti-harassment training company-wide to train employees on what is and what is not harassment and conducted separate training for managers on harassment, hostile work environment claims, and how to present consistent, constructive workplace criticism to protect both the company and its managers from employee claims.
Investigation of sexual harassment claim against one of two partners in a company: An employee made graphic claims of sexual harassment against one of two partners in a small company. The company employed less than a dozen employees and the investigation of the claim would have been left to the remaining partner. The partners had been in business together for decades and had a social relationship with their spouses outside of work. The investigating partner did not want to handle the investigation of his friend and did not want to face the social implications if the investigating partner’s investigation corroborated the allegations. From the company’s standpoint, because of the company’s structure, the concern was that if the investigating partner concluded that the allegations were not true, the employee would simply argue that the investigating partner was “covering” for his friend. We investigated the allegations, uncovered that some, but not all of the allegations were true, and negotiated the employee’s separation from the company while preserving the decades-long partnership.
TYPES OF CLAIMS AND DISPUTES HANDLED:
- Family and Medical Leave Act
- Sexual Discrimination and Harassment
- Age Discrimination
- Disability Discrimination
- Racial Discrimination
- National Origin Discrimination
- Religious Discrimination
- Hostile Work Environment
- Workplace Gossip/Confidentiality
- Personality Disputes/Teamwork
- Workplace Bullying
ELDI’S INVESTIGATION AND EMPLOYER PROTECTION PROGRAM:
ELDI reviews each specific situation with an employer to decide how best to handle the situation efficiently, with as minimal workplace disruption as possible, but with an aim to minimize risk to the employer of future claims. ELDI does not utilize a “one size fits all” approach to investigating workplace disputes. ELDI will create an investigation plan for a specific situation utilizing some or all of the steps below. ELDI can handle the investigation from start to finish or direct HR or the employer’s managers as to how to conduct the investigation at each step. ELDI works with employers to provide guidance and recognizes the importance of working within the existing workplace culture to achieve effective results. An ELDI investigation can include:
- Meeting with management to plan investigative process to best fit company’s needs and specific situation
- Interview of complaining employee
- Interview witnesses
- Preparation of investigation summary memorandum
- Used to determine outcome of investigation and demonstrate prompt action by employer in the event of litigation/later claims
- Consultation with management to review findings and determine results of investigation
- Discipline or counseling of employees
- Employers often do not want to handle the counseling or termination of employees who acted inappropriately or worse, terminate or discipline employees who have been determined to have brought false claims. ELDI handles counseling, discipline, and termination of employees as needed after a workplace investigation
- Workplace training of employees and/or management to address areas of concern and avoid future claims
- Policy development and modification if necessary in light of issues raised in investigation