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Investigating Misconduct of Remote Workers

In the absence of face-to-face contact, employee misconduct can be difficult to prove.

Posted by Timothy Dimoff on July 28th, 2020

The pandemic has changed the way we work, from where we are working, to how we are working, to conducting oversight of workers. Remote working has presented its own challenges for workplace investigations including how to investigate misconduct of remote workers.

Last month I outlined some basic challenges when conducting investigations during a pandemic. This month I want to focus on investigating employee misconduct and why it is crucial to continue to conduct timely and thorough investigation of any issues that are reported, even if employees are working remotely.


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Challenges for Investigators

During normal times, investigating employee misconduct comes with its own set of challenges. Employees may be hesitant to report issues, they may be wary of answering questions during interviews, everything must be documented, etc.

So how should a company deal with investigations when employees are working remotely? The simple truth is that these investigations become even harder to conduct. But any issues must be investigated promptly and just as thoroughly as always.

Companies need to be aware that working remotely make it more difficult to detect an employee’s inappropriate actions. How a company responds can come into question if the company chooses to prioritize compliance over responding in the event of a complaint. And they need to be aware that there are definite challenges that come with investigating issues remotely.

Difficulties of Detection

During remote working, the risks of harassment and other unacceptable behaviors still exist. Additionally, it is also more difficult to detect or supervise employee behaviors such as substance abuse when they are working. An employee working from home might be indulging in alcohol or drugs while on the job. They can still harass co-workers or exhibit other unacceptable behaviors and, therefore, investigating misconduct of remote workers must be a priority.

A key aspect when conducting an investigation is the ability to prove an employee’s conduct as a determining factor. With remote working, it is even more challenging to prove the link between an employee’s actions and the accusations, but there are ways to do it.

Remote working brings a larger dependence on other workers who must report unacceptable behaviors. Workplace culture is now playing an even more important role in determining if workers feel comfortable reporting any issues. It is also very important the company focus on immediate investigations of any complaints. If they don’t, employees may feel the company values compliance over addressing unacceptable behaviors. This perception alone can bring a myriad of legal and morale issues.

Update Policies

It is also a good idea to update any company handbooks with a section on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior when working remotely. Make sure everyone receives a copy of the policy and signs that they received it. This can be done electronically.

Employers need to understand that conducting workplace investigations during a pandemic is a necessary operational procedure that will benefit everyone involved in the issue.

Timothy Dimoff
Timothy Dimoff

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues.
He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University.

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