Workplace Investigations & Audits
What We Do
Our lawyers regularly conduct internal investigations of alleged wrongdoing in the workplace, including complaints of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, whistleblowing, pay inequity, theft, fraud, and embezzlement. Many of these investigations involve highly sensitive matters, including allegations against C-suite executives, or have potential collective or class-wide implications. Our engagements in these areas often require reporting to the board of directors or a specially comprised committee of the boards. We also have experience working collaboratively with internal or external public relations and communications professionals, where needed, to craft appropriate communications to all constituencies while maintaining the investigation’s integrity and (where appropriate) privilege.
The key to a successful investigation is gaining the trust and confidence of witnesses. For some, this requires more than the assurance that retaliation is not permitted and that their participation will be treated as confidentially as possible. While getting reluctant witnesses to be fully forthcoming and transparent is more an art than a science, there is a connection to be established in these types of cases, even with the most reluctant witness. Tone and rapport matter. Reading and meeting the witness where they are at the outset also matters. A turning point is often the combination of recognizing their discomfort and carefully communicating that organizational issues (to the extent they exist) cannot be addressed without an understanding of the issues that the witness can help provide.
Though employees have a duty to cooperate in an investigation, and there can be value in reminding them that there is an expectation of cooperation, in our experience, a reluctant witness is less likely to open up in response to a directive. The location of interviews can also be helpful in this regard in order to provide maximum anonymity and confidentiality.
The results of an investigation typically involve the issuance of written findings and recommendations. Our lawyers are very adept at fashioning remedial solutions that neutralize any inappropriate conduct.
Some of our work in this area includes the following:
- Microsoft Corporation: We were engaged to conduct an independent inquiry into Microsoft’s policies and procedures on gender discrimination and sexual harassment issues and to issue a public transparency report. The engagement was the result of a contested stockholder resolution mandating the audit. This report became public on November 15, 2022, which Microsoft published online here, and the full report can be read here.
- United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC): We have conducted numerous compliance investigations for the USOPC to ensure national governing bodies are complying with their own Bylaws, the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, and the USOPC Bylaws. These investigations include issues of Board governance, financial practices, selection procedures, hiring practices, effective reporting practices, mental health resources, and various other issues.
- Large Dealerships in California: Investigations involving allegations of sexual harassment and improper workplace conduct. We have also conducted wage and hour audits to ensure compliance with California’s overtime, meal and rest breaks, and other wage and hour requirements.
- Large Government Contractor: We were engaged in the internal investigation of anonymous complaints alleging systemic hiring, promotion, and compensation decisions made by the CHRO. The complaint also alleges retaliation for past participation in raising these concerns.
- Digital Media Companies: We have conducted wide-ranging investigations of gender-based discrimination for two different digital media companies.
- Large Health Care Provider: Investigated the failure to properly investigate and remedy multiple allegations of sexual harassment and related allegations of a culture of retaliation. The investigation included interviews of people in positions ranging from administrative to C-suite.
- High Profile Non-Profit: Investigated allegations of gender discrimination in the hiring of a C-suite executive that were made by someone in the Legal Department of a high-profile non-profit.
- Publicly-Traded Hotel Company: Conducted several investigations of internal gender discrimination complaints against C-suite executives of a publicly traded hotel company.
- Board of Education of the City of Chicago: Independently reviewed policies and procedures utilized by the nation’s fourth largest public school district, following a Chicago Tribune’s report that revealed cases where students were sexually abused by Chicago Public School (CPS) employees.
- Office of the Speaker of the House (Illinois): Investigated allegations of sexual harassment within all departments of the Office of the Speaker.
We are frequently called upon to conduct internal audits of clients’ compliance with a vast array of labor and employment laws. The subjects we regularly review include the following:
- Employee Handbooks, with an emphasis on review of policies and procedures regarding discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and family and medical leave;
- Personnel recordkeeping;
- Classification of employees as exempt or non-exempt for overtime purposes, including a review of job descriptions;
- Classification of workers as employees or independent contractors;
- Analysis of joint employer risks, including with respect to the engagement of temporary or contingent workers;
- Compensation systems and pay equity issues;
- Payroll practices, including paying for all hours worked and compliance with meal and break period requirements; in particular, our experience with wage and hour audits includes circumstances where a client is responding to specific complaints and/or audits initiated by a regulatory agency like the DOL, but also situations where clients are self-auditing in order to ensure best practices and avoid disputes;
- Protection of company assets, including through the use of confidentiality and other restrictive covenants agreements;
- Payment of “prevailing wage” under federal or state law or otherwise required wages and/or benefits funds contributions pursuant to an applicable collective bargaining agreement or benefit fund subscription agreement;
- Labor relations matters associated with preparation for collective bargaining and contingency planning for potential labor disputes and work stoppages;
- Any of a wide array of labor and employment issues that a client may be focused on understanding and mitigating in preparation for potential sale activities;
- In addition, we regularly partner with attorneys from the firm’s Executive Compensation and Employee Benefits practice in connection with benefits plan or program audits.