When people spend around 8-10 hours at their workplaces, their personal issues can at times spillover on to their professional lives. One such instance is when an employee is accused of some criminal wrongdoing which is not related to his / her professional life. As a company, the first thought would be to distance yourself from him / her. But that may not be the ideal approach.
Take the case of Tesco. In 2006, one of their staff members was arrested on suspicion of murdering five sex workers in Ipswich. Tesco took the decision to suspend the employee. However, the suspect was later released without charge.
When you are dealing with employees who confide their crimes or are subjected to a criminal investigation, you need to take due caution in handling such cases. So, how should you react when the news of an employee being under investigation or accused of having committed a criminal act comes to light?
How do you protect your rights as an employer and shield your company from legal scrutiny? The solution depends on your surrounding circumstances, but here are some handy tips to help you decide what to do if you ever face this situation with your employees.
Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions
It is imperative for employers to bear in mind that just because an employee is being investigated by the police, he/she should not be automatically suspended or dismissed. A fair no-blame approach should be adopted instead before taking an immediate decision.
For instance, in situations where an employee is accused of bullying, it may be considered to move them to a different role or department until a full-blown investigation is conducted. An employer should carry out their internal investigations before taking hasty decisions.
Considering Suspension and Disciplinary Investigation
The company has to decide whether the criminal allegations pose any threat to the employment relationship. The employee should only be suspended if the investigations impose a risk to the integrity of your organisation, a threat to the organisation’s relationship with its customers or clients, or to its image in entirety.
A suspension without a good reason is likely to be found detrimental to the employer, especially when the employee makes a discrimination claim. If you decide to suspend the employee, you should clearly file the reasons.
There can be cases where it would not be necessary to initiate internal investigations. Allegations like reckless driving do not influence the employee’s work or relationships with colleagues, customers or service users. However, some allegations may impose unacceptable risks to the organisational assets, including its reputation. In such cases, an internal investigation can be carried out.
After conducting their internal investigations, employers do not have to wait for the conclusion of the court proceedings. Since the criminal proceedings can take many years, waiting for the outcome could possibly impact the running of the business.
Employers must adhere to the prevailing code of conduct when it comes to disciplinary procedures in cases involving criminal aspects. This means when dismissal is being considered, it must be made clear to the employee in advance. Written warnings must be given, alternative sanctions should be considered, and a right of appeal must also be provided.
Reporting to the Police and Other Agencies
In some cases, when information about the misconduct of an employee comes to light and clearly indicates that they might have committed a crime, the employers should even-mindedly report the incident to the police.
However, before you do that, take into account the nature of the offence and the strength of its impact on your reputation and workplace, and then decide to report to the police.
It is also your duty to report the actions of the employee to other agencies if any concerns arise from the investigation; for example, to any children or senior adults the employee might be working with.
What to Do When Employee is Formally Charged for a Crime
When an employee reports to you that someone from outside the workplace has accused him of a crime that intersects with his work, the first question you should ask him/her is “Are you represented by a lawyer?”
You should not even discuss the nitty gritty of the allegation without first speaking to your own lawyer. In most cases, a person who has been accused of a crime will already be represented by a lawyer.
Be careful of what you converse with the suspected employee to avoid any complications for you and your company. If the employee lacks representation, you can perhaps have a closed-door discussion to understand the nature of charges and its implications on your organization.
Employee Investigations – Understand Your Rights
Employers Should Not…
- Dismiss an employee suspected of a crime without any investigations. The employer can only take this action when the nature of the crime is directly relevant to the person’s employment and when he/she is found guilty
- Suspend an employee automatically. They should first seek alternatives like moving them to a new role or department. When alternatives are not possible, employers should seek agreement with the employee and, then, suspend them while the investigation is in process
- Rely only on police investigations. Employers should undertake their own investigation wherever feasible only after careful consideration of the nature of the crime.
- Suspend an employee if they refuse to refrain from work and the employer believes that their presence will jeopardize the organization’s reputation and, health and safety of the workplace
- Dismiss an employee after their conviction or after an internal investigation finds any discrepancies and if there is a breach of trust and confidence
- Lawfully process personal data relating to employees and understand that illegal provisioning of data to third parties could result in a breach of data protection law
It is highly recommended for HR professionals to follow a steady course in the workplace when an employee is charged or being investigated for a crime. Accordingly, you should take the right measures to tackle the situation. Following the right procedures before taking hasty decisions will keep you and your staff out of trouble.