We don’t have enough information about the particular situation to know the thoughts and actions of the customer or whether they violated any policies. It can be shocking for employees to discover that human resources are investigating something that affects them, whether they are the subject of the investigation or their name is mentioned in conversation.
An investigation can have serious consequences, so I asked a labour lawyer to give his views. Mark Neuberger works for Foley & Lardner. Mark shared his knowledge with us before. This post on how to terminate someone was one of my favourites. (Please note that Mark’s comments are not legal advice. You know the drill.
You will need to communicate with human resources frequently during investigations. How can employees be reminded that they are expected to meet with HR about an investigation, regardless of their involvement?
Each employee is required to cooperate with the employer’s investigation. An at-will employee working for a private employer could face discipline or dismissal if they fail to cooperate with the investigation.
Employees should also quickly evaluate whether they are being interviewed to be witnesses or targets for wrongdoing. An employee who suspects they might be the victim of criminal conduct should immediately consult an attorney. Contrary to popular belief, employees in the private sector do not have federal constitutional rights against their employers and, therefore, cannot request an attorney to accompany them during interviews. Unlike private-sector employees, federal, state, and local government employees have completely different rules.
Confidentiality is a major concern for employees who speak with human resources. Could you please share your insight on how confidential investigations are conducted?
There will never be a 100% confidential investigation. The person you speak to will have to report the matter to another manager. It is important to ask whether management is doing enough to ensure those in the loop are kept in a tight circle. Shame on the company for not trying to do its best in this area.
Even though HR advises employees to keep confidential matters, stories can still start to circulate in the office. Is there anything an employee can tell a coworker if they approach them and ask what happened in the HR investigation?
I once sat right outside the HR manager’s office in another job. Sometimes, by simply watching what happened in the office, I could decipher what was happening. Again, there will never be 100% confidentiality.
Employees should not gossip or speculate. It is difficult to say that, but I get it. It is more likely that another employee will suffer from gossip mills than the company, so be respectful of your co-workers.
Retaliation is another concern for employees. What can employees do if they feel they are being retaliated upon for speaking to HR?
When an employee is being interviewed for any investigation, the employee should question the employee, “If I am in any manner retaliated against,”
A customer may also be involved in this scenario. An employee may feel that a customer isn’t telling the whole story. Could they discuss the matter with their manager or HR? This wouldn’t be a good idea.
Management should listen to employees. Unfortunately, businesses will often try to make the customer happy, even if it is a negative experience for the employee. High school was a time when I worked in a supermarket. The manager kept telling us that the customer was always right. It is usually a bad idea for an employee to pick up the phone or send an email to the customer and begin mixing it all up with them. This will almost always lead to a bad outcome for the employee.