How to handle employee misconduct investigations
Every employer wants to create a workplace that is energized yet calm, motivated yet obedient, serious yet lighthearted. In some work environments, these unspoken tenets are tall orders for certain employees. The typical behavior that one might expect of an employed, responsible adult is, unfortunately, not always present. While people are entitled to their good days and bad days, there are some employee problems that are deep-seated and difficult to overcome, particularly if an employee denies behaving improperly or you have a hard time proving their inappropriate – and sometimes illegal – conduct. When these types of problems arise, you need a trusted resource to properly handle your employee misconduct investigations.
The issues in play where employee misconduct is concerned are about far more than one person swiping too many ink pens or post-it notes from the supply cupboard. Office transgressions of far greater significance – such as harassment or bullying, aggressive behavior, payroll abuse, asset misuse, gross insubordination, substance abuse, mistreatment of equipment, and more – have the potential to become disruptive liabilities. Highly charged employee misconduct cases require tact, discretion, and subtlety during an investigation so that workplace efficiency can be maintained and tensions minimized while an urgent and weighty matter is explored.
Why You Should Outsource Your Employee Misconduct Investigations
A professionally conducted employee misconduct investigations is particularly beneficial in situations where difficult or unorthodox misconduct circumstances are transpiring. By working with a licensed private detective agency, you unburden your human resources department from needing to develop an academic understanding of noncompliance issues, as well as reduce any further stress that witnesses and victims may experience. Most notably, the use of a private investigator means the investigation is carried out in a timely manner and remains objective and unbiased.
For those employees who are privy to the fact that you are outsourcing the investigation duties – or who know that you are doing an investigation at all – this choice sends a positive message that you take the matters at hand seriously. Utilizing a private surveillance expert also makes it clear that you wish for the employee misconduct investigations to be handled impartially, and removes any specter of favoritism or biases associated with having a company employee conduct the investigation.
By hiring a seasoned professional investigator, you are also reaping the benefits of experienced specialists who regularly conduct comprehensive employee misconduct investigations and understand the details and legalities essential to managing this kind of scrutiny.
There are several common matters that arise in employee misconduct situations:
Harassment in the workplace can take various forms. Whether verbal, sexual, or physical harassment, every employee who is accused of or suspected of wrongdoing must be thoroughly investigated. While your company may already have policies and preventive measures in place to prevent or address harassment, the type of issue on the table will influence how an investigation is conducted. What is the nature of the harassment? Is it occurring between two or more employees? Is it occurring between an employee and a customer or client? Is the harassment happening off-site or on-site?
Here are typical forms of harassment:
- Sexual harassment: In the case of sexual harassment, the hostile work environment can be created when one employee makes unwanted comments about another employee’s appearance, tells offensive or off-color jokes or stories, circulates obscene photos, presents an employee with sexual objects, or asks about an employee’s sex life.
- Physical harassment: According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are about 2 million assaults and threats of violence against employees in the workplace every year. Assault – whether aggravated assault, rape, or sexual assault – is the most common type of physical harassment. The third-leading cause of fatal occupational injury is homicide.
- Threats or intimidation: Workplace harassment doesn’t have to include a physical altercation. Threats alone are enough to be considered harassment, and employers who neglect to investigate these situations can be liable for whatever consequences may occur. It is the responsibility of an employer to maintain a safe work environment for all employees.
- Verbal harassment: Being a tough manager or boss is one thing. Verbally harassing subordinates, or even peers, is another situation entirely, and one that is unacceptable. Verbally attacking an employee, customer, or colleague can easily develop into physical harassment. And verbal harassment can be disruptive or distracting to more than just the coworkers in question.
In harassment cases, it will be necessary for the investigator to interview the complainant, the alleged employee who is doing the harassing, and witnesses. An experienced private investigator is equipped to handle such a sensitive matter and adept at extracting information from all parties involved.
It can be difficult to distinguish between bullying and harassment in the workplace. Are they one in the same? Or are they different problems entirely? There is some overlap between harassment and bullying, and the expertise of a private investigator enables an employer to differentiate between the two so that the proper discipline and consequences can be doled out. Constant criticism, humiliation, yelling, and insults can toe the lie between harassment and bullying.
But bullying can also include behaviors that are cloaked as “necessary”, like maintaining a file about an employee’s or coworker’s mistakes. Bullying behaviors may be flat-out obvious but easily denied, and include actions like false accusations, gossip and rumors, exclusion from events or meetings, sabotage, deliberate schedule changes, work overload, or stolen work. It’s often necessary to seek out a professional private investigator to serve as a third party and uncover direct evidence of bullying.
Employee Time Theft
The “water cooler” of the modern culture is the smartphone – texting, emailing, surfing the web, all of these habits are a time suck that take away from the work an employee should be doing. While these vices can prove to be costly over time, significant employee misconduct in the form of employee time theft is a far bigger problem that is harder to prove. It’s challenging to monitor an employee’s behavior when they’re off-site. When a person works from home or has a position that takes them out of the office most of the time and far away from direct supervision, their unchecked time can turn into idle and personal time. From shopping to hanging out at home to sleeping to working another job during what is supposed to be their work time with you, employee misconduct in the form of time theft can be astonishing.
The experience and skills of a professional private investigator enable an employer and company to gather the necessary evidence of employee time theft in order to have grounds for termination and, potentially, prosecution. Taking the steps to investigate alleged employee time theft is also an action that helps deter all workers from abusing the freedoms you provide them as your employees.
Employee Asset Misuse
As an employer, it is critical that you learn how to delegate and trust others with your company, proprietary information, intellectual property, and trade secrets. Whether big business or small business, entrusting employees with any private details is a leap of faith. Even when you have done due diligence and hired the best people you possibly can, employee asset misuse can still occur, and it can take several different forms:
- Using company funds for personal expenses.
- Using the company car for personal recreation.
- Accepting gratuities from clients in exchange for services, benefits, or special treatment.
- Conducting competing business transactions using the company’s facility and equipment
Employee misconduct in the form of asset misuse can happen with direct employees or contractors, and the occurrence can threaten the integrity and prosperity of your organization. While maintaining constant surveillance of all your employees to ward off employee asset misuse is costly and daunting, outsourcing a suspected employee misconduct situation to a private investigative firm unveils the offenders while showing all employees that there is a zero-tolerance policy for asset misuse.
Payroll abuse exists mainly in the form of falsified wages. An employee might claim compensation for hours they have not worked or alter their time cards or time sheets. But when payroll abuse is suspected at the source of payroll – in your accounting or payroll department – your company’s financial liability runs deep. These employees are able to alter their own pay or hours worked, or the hours or pay of any employee, to reflect a higher sum. Payroll employees may even have an opportunity to pay themselves a bonus.
There are also commission schemes that directly benefit employees by increasing their wages, albeit in a slightly more roundabout way. Ghost employees may be created so that wages can be given to a nonexistent person while another employee actually benefits. Workers’ compensation fraud occurs when an employee claims false injuries at work and seek to gain financially.
When you suspect payroll fraud or payroll abuse within your organization, it is essential to seek the assistance of experts who can identify the exact source of the abuse and theft.
Alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and even tobacco use can be grounds for dismissal in some organizations. An employee’s substance abuse problem has the power to impact your bottom line and the reputation of your company, while also preventing the employee from properly doing the job they have been hired to do. Even if it seems as though your employee is arriving at work intoxicated, high, or otherwise – or you suspect that they are indulging their substance abuse while on the job – proving this reality is not always simple.
A private investigator is able to do the tedious work that you do not have time to do – monitor the behavior of your employee to determine just what he or she is doing, on the clock or off the clock, that could be impacting their performance at work and, therefore, impacting the success of your company as well as their fellow employees.
When an employee is insubordinate, just fire him, right? Not necessarily. When it comes to insubordination as an employee misconduct situation, there are shades of grey. Insubordination is not always obvious – an employee may be perfectly kind, agreeable, docile, and obedient in person with their employer or manager, then go off and blatantly refuse to follow direct orders. Insubordination can take many forms, and in some instances what may seem like insubordination could merely be a misunderstanding. It’s for the professional investigator to determine whether the alleged insubordination occurred willfully or accidentally, once or repeatedly, and whether there are extenuating circumstances that caused an employee to be insubordinate or feel they couldn’t follow orders.
You don’t want to mishandle an insubordination case. Neglecting to take a matter like insubordination seriously and deal with it head-on is a recipe for creating a toxic work environment that affects all employees, not just the one(s) in question.
Why Hire ASG?
Our investigative team is comprised of a wide variety of subject matter experts when it comes to specific investigations in relation to employee misconduct. We have a dedicated unit of surveillance experts that utilizes innovative and modern camera equipment to monitor stationary activities as well as document the arrival and departure patterns of employees as they travel from a location or job site. Our experts also conduct detailed, thorough, and insightful background checks as part of our employee misconduct investigations.
If you are facing a sensitive employee misconduct situation, we encourage you to contact the ASG investigative team to discuss our services in detail. Don’t allow your brand, credibility, reputation, or bottom line to be tarnished by employee misconduct. Get in touch today at 888-677-9700 for a confidential consultation.