Human Resource and Labor Relations professionals (HR/LR) normally take the lead on workplace investigations of employee misconduct. Given that, they may also bear the blame for investigations that result in adverse employment actions that do not withstand litigation scrutiny. If a current or former employee challenges an adverse employment action via an EEOC or NLRB charge, a DOL complaint, a CBA grievance, or court action, the employer incurs significant expense and disruption simply defending the action. The employer’s exposure increases exponentially if the employer loses the case on the merits before a regulator or court. Consequently, HR/LR should devote sufficient time and attention to workplace investigations to avoid challenge in the first place, where possible, and to ensure the best chance of winning on the merits if a challenge does take place. But where to look for guidance? This blog answers that question and provides a checklist for HR/LR to follow to conduct employee misconduct investigations that will withstand litigation scrutiny.
In Part 1 of the series reexamining harassment policies and procedures, we looked at common harassment investigation missteps and how to correct them. In Part 2, we examine confidentiality policies.
Employers often defend Title VII harassment claims by showing that they exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct harassing behavior. A key aspect of reasonable care requires an employer to have an anti-harassment policy that, according to the EEOC, “should contain, at a minimum” six elements including an “assurance that the employer will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the extent possible.”
At the same time, the NLRA prohibits employers from maintaining blanket confidentiality rules that prohibit employees from discussing workplace investigations. In Banner Estrella Medical Center, 358 NLRB 809 (2012), the NLRB found that an HR consultant violated the NLRA by routinely asking employees not discuss ongoing investigations with their coworkers. To lawfully require confidentiality of employees, an employer must show a legitimate business justification specific to the investigation at issue, such as the need to protect witnesses or prevent tampering with evidence. That remains the law today, despite the NLRB’s recent shift on employer policies.
So how’s an employer to reconcile those seemingly conflicting laws? Continue Reading Confidentiality Policies that Survive EEOC and NLRB Scrutiny: Reexamining Harassment Investigation Protocol Part 2