When incidents occur that affect the well being of employees or undermine the company culture, it is important to address the issues in a way that is effective and legal. Far too often, employee incidents and grievances are swept under the rug with the explanation that the issue is “under investigation.” Since unhandled incidents have the potential to detract from employee satisfaction, elevate turnover, and cause legal troubles, the following actions should be taken to handle employee incidents and grievances.
Sitting down with an employee and listening to their grievances or a description of how an incident occurred is an important first step. Far too often, employees’ complaints are brushed off or even mocked, which can make employees feel unvalued and can cause dissatisfaction in the workplace. If it makes more sense, allowing employees to report incidents or grievances using messaging or the telephone may also be helpful.
Having a written record of when an incident occurred that details all relevant information can be helpful in an investigation. All individuals that were involved, including employees, customers, and even bystanders, should be interviewed and statements should be taken. If disciplinary action is required or if accident reports are relevant, these should be filled out and notations should be made on all documentation detailing the actions that have been taken.
Perform an Investigation
Investigations may vary depending on the type of incident, but an unbiased investigator should always be the one in charge. Bringing in a corporate HR professional may make sense if the company is large. If a company is small, it may be necessary to hire a third party to investigate.
Investigation tactics may include: installing cameras or checking feeds, gathering evidence to support or invalidate employees’ stories, and checking company records for issues like theft or payroll fraud. Performing an investigation can help to ensure that an incident occurred the way that it was reported, but can also help to identify issues that can be changed to prevent future incidents and complaints.
Take Action to Make Changes
Taking action is important to show employees that the company is serious about resolving issues. Actions taken may vary widely, however, and not everyone is going to agree with the actions taken in any given situation.
If a grievance stems from harassment, for example, instituting training to identify and discourage harassment may be helpful. If a grievance stems from theft, implementing cameras may work to prevent future problems.
Keep Everything Confidential
Talking too much about an incident, especially with individuals not affected by the incident, can be damaging to an investigation and can even result in legal action. Employees that could have been helpful to an investigation may clam up after being forewarned about what is going on. If a person has been accused of something and finds out because of rumors, the individual may also have grounds for a defamation lawsuit.
Use Disciplinary Tools Wisely
In many cases, employers are tempted to immediately fire anyone accused of wrongdoing, but this may be the wrong approach. If someone made an honest mistake that affected others unfavorably, coaching may be more helpful and suited to changing the situation than firing. If employees have engaged in violence, predatory behavior, or theft, however, firing is appropriate after the incident has been investigated satisfactorily.