If you are an employer in Texas, you may have to conduct an internal investigation at some point during your career. While it may be easier to ignore a problem or consider it to be a personal issue outside of your purview, there are situations when you have a legal duty to follow up.
As the Texas Workforce Commission explains, sometimes, failing to conduct an investigation may increase your liability for civil suits from employees.
When does an employer need to conduct an investigation?
Investigations into harassment, threats of violence, workplace safety hazards, discrimination or similar issues may be your legal responsibility. Workplace safety hazards may be employee reports of dangerous equipment conditions, or they may be suspicion of employee drug use or past misbehavior.
If you receive a report from an employee, ignoring it could result in civil penalties or even more severe consequences. But even if you do not receive an employee report, if you knew about a situation warranting an investigation, you may still be responsible to act. In some cases, you may not be able to claim a lack of knowledge as a defense if you reasonably should have known about a situation or if you looked the other way.
How does an employer launch an investigation?
To open an investigation, you will need to designate an impartial investigator who knows state and federal employment laws and can conduct a fair and thorough investigation. This investigator will need to spend sufficient time to review all the relevant factors involved without delaying the end result.
During the investigation, you will need to help the investigator respect the privacy rights of your employees and may not be able to speak openly about the situation until the investigator has been able to collect all the relevant data.
After conducting the investigation, if the situation warrants it, you may be legally obligated to take corrective action. The investigation and subsequent actions will depend on the unique factors of your case.