Whenever an employer learns of employee behavior that’s inappropriate, unlawful, or violates company policies, it’s time to investigate. California law may require an employer investigation (e.g., for harassment), but even if not legally required, a prompt, fair, and reasonable investigation can help prevent or defend against a potential legal claim. Here’s a handy checklist for employer internal investigations.
Employers not only may be held liable for workplace harassment, but they have the potential for separate liability for not taking reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from occurring. Govt C §12940(k). One step every employer should take is to draft and disseminate an anti-harassment policy. Note that the mere existence of a policy prohibiting harassment isn’t enough to shield the employer from liability. To work as a shield, the policy must be adequate and it must be distributed to employees. Does your client’s policy include all of the elements in this checklist?
Given the employer’s duty to “take all reasonable steps” to prevent discrimination, harassment, and other unlawful practices (Govt C §12940(h)(5), (k); 29 CFR §1604.11(d)), employment lawyers can expect to conduct—or assist a client in conducting—a workplace investigation. Although most will be well-acquainted with the fact-finding process, the role of a litigator and the role of an investigator are quite different and implicate different goals, interests, and naturally, a whole host of different problems.
Just in case employers have forgotten how critical it is to avoid and properly handle harassment claims, the recent $1.5 million settlement against JPMorgan should serve as a reminder. Advise all employers to take action and have a plan to protect employees and minimize harassment claims.
As reported in Corporate Counsel, office Halloween parties can be a nightmare for in-house and other employment lawyers. Costume choices can raise various discrimination and harassment issues — consider the “illegal alien” costume or the sexy maid get-up. To keep Halloween fun for all, employers should be proactive, and then reactive when necessary.