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Oct 17, 2014

By Eric B. Meyer

One employer appears to have screwed up royally, which seems to be part of a trend this week.

Yes, there are several things you don’t want to do if an employee reports a noose in the workplace, among them:

The perils of a “lackadaisical” investigation

Conducting a half-assed, or “lackadaisical,” investigation, as a federal court referred to it in this opinion (Stewart v. Jeld-Wen, Inc.), is a sure way to earn yourself a jury trial on a race discrimination claims:

Plaintiff argues that Defendant’s “investigation” in response to Mr. Stewart discovering a noose in the back of his truck was lackadaisical, out of compliance with its own anti-harassment policy, and otherwise non-effective….Here, the facts presented could lead a reasonable jury to find that Defendant knew about the harassment Plaintiff complains of and failed to respond with remedial action reasonably calculated to end the harassment.”

You know you’re screwed as an employer when you’re reading the Court’s opinion and see “investigation” in quotes. Yikes!

Taking employee complaints seriously

A word to the wise: Take all workplace complaints seriously. If the complaint is about something real serious — like a noose — consider hiring an experienced outside investigator to investigate the complaint.

You get the benefit of an unbiased professional. Plus, if the complaint has merit, that third-party can suggest a protocol to reasonably ensure that the discrimination does not repeat itself.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.