Listen, Investigate and Communicate—Proactively

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Many businesses are familiar with investigations as a result of harassment complaints. However, there are other times when a proactive investigation and communication policy could help resolve issues earlier, potentially avoiding criminal or civil charges and promoting the culture and responsiveness of the firm.

Why should this matter? Look at the recent events at Penn State. Reputations are ruined; time and money will be spent to fully investigate protocols, past events, processes and channels of communication. Businesses, business owners, executives, managers, supervisors and fellow employees can have their reputations tarnished by failing to take appropriate action and having a plan to investigate complaints.

Having a culture that promotes communication, ensures fairness, follows a process and implements the resolutions goes a long way to handle issues before they become out of control.

What Situations Require Investigations?
Many situations within a professional services firm could lead to complaints and an investigation. For example, according to the State of California Department of Industrial Relations website, employees who feel that they have been discriminated against or harassed because of their race, religion, sex, color, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, physical handicap, medical condition, marital status, age (over 40) or request for family leave, should contact the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Needless to say, any of those issues (and others) should be addressed.

What Should Small Business Owners Do?
The size of financial planning firms varies widely. For the solo practitioner and similarly staffed practices, there are questions about how formal and complex policies and processes have to be. You should consult a human resource expert or an attorney, and for many situations, properly worded polices and a straightforward, informal process can bring issues to light and properly resolve them.

Communicate the policy. All members of the firm (owners, management and employees) and independent contractors should be aware of the policies. Explaining these policies in meetings and having them in manuals gives the firm the opportunity to promote its culture and professionalism.  

Some policies you may want to consider include: 

  • An “open door” communications policy (why the firm has this, how to talk to management, how the firm approaches  the resolution of the issues)
  • Equal Opportunity Employment
  • How the firm addresses ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Harassment  and Sexual Harassment
  • Safety in Workplace

Have a process to address the issues: listen, investigate, communicate, implement and follow-up:

  • Determine what the person can expect when bringing up an issue: extent of confidentiality, protection for accuser or victim, who will lead the investigation
  • Select the investigator and plan the questions and process to interview all parties and witnesses
  • Determine how to communicate with and handle the accused; will the issues require the accused to take a leave?
  • Communicate the length of time for investigation and resolution
  • Review the interviews and make a decision
  • Communicate the resolution and implement the resolution
  • Written investigation results should contain the following items, according to the Society for Human Resource Management: The incident or issues investigated including dates, parties involved, key factual and credibility findings including sources referenced, employer policies and/or guidelines and their applicability to the investigation, specific conclusions, parties responsible for making the final determination, issues that could not be resolved and reasons for lack of resolution and the employer actions taken.
  • Follow-up with all involved parties to assure fairness and resolution

This article is for informative purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Mary Dunlap, CFP®
Mary Dunlap Consulting
Pottstown, Pa.

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