investigations should be conducted in cases where no one formally complains yet the employer has learned of a claim of wrongdoing via an anonymous tip, citizen complaint, rumor, hearsay, or third-party employee complaining on behalf of the victim. An employer can be charged with constructive notice of the alleged wrongdoing, even if no one complains of the conduct, when the conduct is so pervasive that the employer should have known of it.
An employer should also investigate if a complaint comes in through the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the EEOC. The investigative report will be included in the employer’s response to the administrative complaint.
An internal human resources employee (or another trained employee) can investigate internally the large majority of complaints that an employer receives, and can usually do so within an hour or two by interviewing two or three eyewitnesses. More complex complaints involving multiple theories of liability, whistleblower statutes, and multiple parties will take longer, and may require hiring a qualified outside investigator.
Time and cost should not be offered as reasons for a failure to investigate. Failing to investigate for either of those reasons would be penny-wise and pound-foolish. When the management employee who decided not to launch an investigation is asked pointedly by the plaintiff’s attorney why he or she did not conduct an investigation and offers expense or lack of time as excuses, the judge or jury may not be sympathetic.