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Respond to a Workplace Incident Before Investigating - Checklist

Author: Michael C. Jacobson, XpertHR Legal Editor

Internal investigations are crucial tools to address allegations of workplace misconduct but the way an employer responds to a complaint before launching an investigation can also be tremendously important in terms of reducing or eliminating liability.

If an employer acts appropriately upon receiving a complaint (and prior to commencing an official investigation), it can potentially prevent additional incidents and create good will with fact finders like judges or juries. The key for employers is to take effective, swift and reasonable action in response to the allegations.

Alternatively, if employers take insufficient or unreasonable action upon receiving allegations or prefer to wait for an investigation to "play out," they may actually create additional exposures, further endanger employees or undermine a future defense to a claim of harassment or intolerable working conditions in court.

The below checklist is designed to walk you through the process of responding to a workplace complaint before actually starting your investigation. It is broken up into four phases which are essentially performing triage regarding the allegation, taking action, considering more severe actions and finally, a review of the entire process for the sake of completeness, accuracy and effectiveness.