By: Rob Parker

Earlier in my career I was the HR Director for a distribution center in northern Nevada comprised of administrative staff and warehouse employees working three shifts.  Management had suspected that drugs were being dealt in the warehouse on the graveyard shift, but we had no proof. 

One day a long-term and well-respected employee came to my office and told me that drugs were being dealt on the graveyard shift and gave me the names of several employees who were involved.  I immediately started an investigation of those who were named.  Two of the employees were so upset by the accusation, they quit.

To make a very long story short, we ultimately determined that drugs were being distributed, but it wasn’t the named employees who were doing it.  It was that long-term, well-respected employee. The employee was returning to the distribution center in the middle of the night, during the graveyard shift, and dealing drugs from her car in the parking lot.  The employee came to me because she thought she was about to be caught and wanted to point me in another direction, which worked.

This story came to mind when a member called recently with a similar situation.

The company had received an anonymous complaint from one of its employees making serious accusations against another employee. I was immediately suspicious given my prior experience.  The complaint had a lengthy list of behaviors that the accuser said were symptoms of drug use. 

I cautioned the member not to immediately launch into an investigation without first gathering more information.  This was the first time the company had received any complaints about this employee’s behavior. 

Given the nature of the allegations, I sent the member our Reasonable Suspicion Testing Form and suggested that at least two members of management personally observe and document the employee’s behavior.  Their observations should dictate the appropriate course of action. 

After reviewing the form, the employee’s direct supervisor observed the employee and did not notice anything that appeared suspicious regarding the employee’s behavior.  Another manager, at the request of company management, observed the same employee several days later.  Once again, nothing suspicious was observed. 

Consequently, company management decided not to investigate further for the following reasons:

  • The anonymous complaint made it impossible to determine the credibility of the accuser or the information provided.
  • Questioning the accused regarding the allegations in the anonymous complaint may be perceived as making false accusations, which could create a problem where one may not exist.
  • There were no other complaints by employees or clients that worked with the accused employee.

Generally, employers are legally obligated to investigate complaints — whether formal or informal — given that every complaint has the potential to become a lawsuit.  As disruptive as investigations can be, they should be prompt, thorough, and result in appropriate remedial action.

We may never know who sent the anonymous complaint or the motive behind it. Each investigation is different depending on the scenario, but the process should be as consistent as possible.  If you need assistance on how to proceed in an investigation please contact NAE for advice.