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Think An Employee May Have Committed A Crime? Think Before You Act

Written exclusively for ChubbWorks

A former sales associate of Korean ancestry sued the department store employer she worked for, alleging race discrimination and negligent misrepresentation.

In the lawsuit, the woman describes how store security staff unexpectedly removed her from the sales floor, kept her in a room, and accused her of scheming with a Chinese customer to use false credit cards. She says store officials coerced her into signing a statement admitting to violating store policy. As she exited the room, police officers arrested her and took her to jail. Twelve hours later, the district attorney dropped all charges.

The incident resulted in her termination from the store, and an unsupported arrest that damaged her otherwise clean criminal record.

The woman believes her employer targeted her because of her Asian ethnicity. The lawsuit states that other non-Asian coworkers also served the Chinese customer, but were not questioned or arrested, and remain employed. Aaron Katersky "Fired Bloomingdale's employee sues over alleged discrimination" abcnews.go.com (May 21, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

Unsupported allegations can result in a variety of claims such as discrimination, harassment, defamation, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims.

When you suspect an employee, send the employee home on paid leave while you investigate and work with law enforcement to determine the facts.

The following suggestions can help you create an effective investigation procedure plan and mitigate the risk associated with false accusations:

  • Be sure your investigation policy provides that every report of wrongdoing will be investigated.
  • Remove all the accused from the workplace. Put him or her on paid leave, letting the employee know that they are not on vacation, but that they need to remain available for an interview with investigators.
  • Consider using a third party to manage reports of wrongdoing.
  • Work with law enforcement when a possible crime is involved.
  • Use a trained investigator. Make sure the investigator has the ability and experience to be objective, calm, courteous, and professional.
  • Help arrange for all parties and witnesses involved to be interviewed.
  • Secure all appropriate documentation, including any video surveillance.
  • Manage the investigation with discretion, but do not promise confidentiality to the parties involved because certain disclosures may need to be made to complete the investigation.
  • Do not let your investigators draw conclusions. Your investigators should be fact-finders. Allow another body to make a decision regarding an appropriate response to the facts found in the investigation report.
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