Receiving a complaint from an employee, member of the public, student or customer can be unexpected and often frustrating; however, they are incredibly common. Private businesses, non-profit organizations, public agencies, and educational organizations all have specific legal obligations to address allegations of illegal conduct, and may have additional obligations under the organization’s policies, procedures or risk management programming.
In some cases, complaints will need to be investigated to ensure compliance with the law, or as a best practice to ensure an appropriate response by an organization. We are experienced at advising clients on which matters should be investigated, and options available for when an investigation is necessary.
We routinely advise on and serve as external investigators for a wide variety of different types of allegations, including, but not limited to, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, physical or sexual assault allegations, Title IX education sector complaints, complaints about curriculum or physical conditions, fraud or misappropriation of funds, student or workplace bullying, and other complaints against an employee or a supervisor. We also assist organizations with third-party accreditor or government agency investigations, for example by the Department of Civil Rights, EEOC, National Labor Relations Board, or licensing agencies.
Under California law, there are generally three types of professionals who can provide investigation services lawfully: (1) a trained, unbiased employee of the organization, (2) a California licensed attorney, or (3) a California licensed private investigator. While there are some other statutory exceptions, most usually will not apply to California workplace or school investigation. Importantly, unlicensed consultants are typically not an option in most California workplace or school investigations. All three options have risks and benefits that should be considered before engaging in an investigation of a complaint. We work with our clients to choose the best option for their organization.
For employers either in the private sector or at schools that wish for employees to receive appropriate training to enable them to conduct a California-law compliant investigate directly, we are experienced at providing the necessary training, policy development, and ongoing support throughout the investigation process. We also provide seasoned assistance with preparing documents related to the investigation, including investigation reports, to ensure the investigation is thorough, complete, and compliant with law and the organization’s policies.
In many cases, an external investigator is an appropriate choice to conduct an organization’s investigation of a complaint. For those that wish for our attorneys to directly investigate complaints, we provide attorney-client privileged investigation services. We can handle the investigation from start to finish. This includes preparing witness lists, interviewing the complainant, interviewing the parties and witnesses involved, review of relevant documents, and preparation of witness statements and/or final reports to the employer or school, and advising whether violations of law or policy occurred. In these cases, we will work closely with a designated manager, general counsel, or school administrator during the investigation.
Following an investigation, we provide options regarding what actions to take based on an investigation, if any. This may include discipline or termination if a policy violation has occurred, as well as responding in writing to the parties, as well as mediation and restorative justice options for repairing relationships going forward where appropriate.