Why Every Employee Complaint Warrants an Internal Investigation

Most employees who file lawsuits against their employers initially reported their concerns internally

Posted by Dawn Lomer in Code of Conduct, Ethics & Compliance, Human Resources on September 6th, 2011

It may be tempting to sweep what look like minor employee complaints under the rug, avoiding the headache of an internal investigation for each one, but there’s good reason to pay close attention, even to chronic complainers. It turns out that 89.7 per cent of employees who eventually file a lawsuit initially reported their concerns internally, either to supervisors or compliance departments, according to a study conducted last November by the National Whistleblowers Center.

That’s a lot of employees who filed lawsuits only after failing to get satisfaction from their employers’ handling of their complaints.

Attorneys William H. Maruca. and Carl J. Rychcik, in an article entitled Careful Investigation of Internal Complaints May Reduce Fraud Exposure, published in Becker’s Hospital Review, explain that taking simple steps can avoid lawsuits and save a company money.

“Many of these cases could potentially have been mitigated and/or prevented by (1) having a sufficient internal compliance program in place, and/or (2) carefully investigating any complaints and reacting appropriately,” they write. “Taking some simple steps before a lawsuit is filed can ultimately mean the difference in preventing litigation and/or saving significant money.”

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Aside from avoiding lawsuits, there are many other good reasons to investigate employee complaints quickly.

Investigating complaints and documenting the investigations using case management software and reporting tools allows you to identify patterns of misconduct and take the necessary steps to prevent it in the future. If you find that a significant number of investigations deal with sexual harassment, then you might want to take that as a sign that more time needs to be spent on that subject during employee training. Internal investigations can provide valuable information used to revamp policies, emphasizing the problem areas identified by employee complaints.

An investigation is necessary to find out whether or not a violation of the company’s policy has, in fact, occurred. Should a lawsuit arise or the government gets involved, you’ll be better prepared to handle inquiries if you investigated promptly, documented the investigation, and secured necessary evidence. The courts have been known to impose lighter penalties on companies that have taken action to investigate internal issues.

Investigations can be expensive, but lawsuits aren’t cheap either. Investigating employee complaints helps reduce risks and keeps your reputation intact. Companies have been rewarded for being cooperative and taking initiative by conducting internal investigations. Companies that fail to investigate are often slammed in the media and criticized by the public for their lax approach to misconduct.

Encouraging internal reporting helps you detect misconduct in its early stages. The sooner you investigate, the sooner you put an end to the misconduct reported. This is particularly effective in fraud cases where the company continues to lose money until the fraudster is stopped.

Investigations help organizations prove that they take their code of conduct and other workplace policies seriously by enforcing rules and consequences. This has a positive impact on all employees and sets the tone for a company with an ethical workforce, resulting in fewer incidents, fewer complaints and, in the end, fewer of those pesky internal investigations in the long run.


Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.