Complaints to Investigations to a Speak Up Culture: Maintaining Important Connections

by Michael Volkov

tinkersLike Tinkers to Evers to Chance completing a double play, compliance programs need to maintain important links among three key elements – its complaint system, the handling of such complaints, and the publicized resolution of such complaints to encourage its Speak Up culture.

Complaint Reporting Channels: Many companies have more than one avenue for officers, managers and employees to complain. That is a good thing. There is no need to constrain employee concerns to a single avenue of reporting. Some employees want to walk into Human Resources, some want to use an anonymous system, and most want to report directly to their immediate supervisor.

The number of reporting channels is not critical. The response to the complaints is the important issue. Human Resources is well versed in handling complaints because they receive a large number. Complaint hot lines have to be manned by staff that speak foreign languages and are trained in how to respond to employee complaints. Most importantly, managers in a company have to be able to respond to an employee who complains to the supervisor.

A company has to maintain discipline and manage its complaint process to ensure that complaints are handled quickly and effectively. Most complaints can be resolved within 60 days. It should be an exception when a complaint is pending for longer than 60 days.

Robust Internal Investigation Process: Those complaints that warrant an internal investigation should be identified early in the process. A robust internal investigation process requires that complaints are fairly investigated, with an appropriate amount of attention and communication with the complaining employee. All complainants should be treated with respect and dignity.

Most internal investigations are not very time nor resource intensive. They should be conducted with confidentiality protections and full attention to the issues. On the other hand, most complaints can be quickly resolved by investigators speaking to a few witnesses and gathering basic information.tinkers3

Again, most internal investigations do not require full-blown elaborate internal investigations. As a result, the matter can be quickly resolved, usually within a 60 day time period.

Of course, some issues require a more elaborate and intensive investigation, typically involving fraud, kickbacks and possibly bribery. Those non-routine matters can be handled on a different track.

Speak Up Culture: A Speak Up culture depends on company-wide policies and communications encouraging employees to report misconduct. In addition, a company has to publicize its reporting channels, commit to a robust and fair internal investigation program, and reassure everyone that complaining employees will not be retaliated against.

tinkers2Each of these elements of a Speak Up culture reinforces each other. The company culture can suffer serious setbacks if one of any of these elements breaks down.

For example, a disciplinary system that is viewed as unfair and favoring the officers over lower level managers and employees will quickly undermine the company’s message encouraging employees to complain through authorized avenues. A Speak Up culture is built on interdependence among each of the elements. One cannot exist without the other. Just like Tinkers to Evers to Chance.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Michael Volkov, The Volkov Law Group | Attorney Advertising

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Michael Volkov

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