Conducting workplace in-house investigations

By Jim Annis


The words, “in-house investigations,” might lead to CLUE board game flashbacks like: Case File Confidential; suspects that begin with names like Colonel and Professor; Rooms and Weapons; and “Who dunnit?”

Failing to perform in-house investigations will not result in fun and games — that’s how employees win lawsuits. Why do an investigation? The onus is always on the employer. Ignorance equals risk. Begin an investigation when the gossip starts, before you receive a complaint and before you are sued. The three most common issues involved in an investigation are harassment, whistleblower, and discrimination. Whatever the issue, following the suggestions below can help manage the risk.

What should be investigated? All gossip, what you hear through management by walking around, subtle “please do not tell anyone” conversations (then do not promise confidentiality — you must address a problem) and comments in anonymous suggestion boxes. Small bumps can become a cancer. Assume each issue is legitimate and drive that type of cultural commitment daily.

When should it be investigated? Immediately. No exceptions. Look forward and reason backward. Go big-picture and follow the trail, with an eagle-eye view. Imagine the timeline spread out from when it happened to two or three years down the line if you wind up in court. If an employee put you on notice Monday, October 1 and then you did not do anything for three weeks, you’re toast. If you took action Monday afternoon upon notice, then you should be evaluated more positively.

Why would you investigate it? You have a responsibility to employees. You’ll lose them is they perceive a lack of commitment to a healthy work culture. Response to an investigation is generally positive: “Management is handling the issue.” If you get rid of the issue, good job — shareholders will be happy.

Who should do the investigation? Investigations are hard. Period. Who you assign to do them is crucial. Options include in-house HR, a PEO, outside HR consultants, an objective person in leadership with no direct reporting, or a person who is not highly emotional.

What’s the end game? Document the following in order:  failure, conclusion, report and follow-up. The most important point is to reach a conclusion. Write it all down on a factual basis, no opinions, based on tangible information. It’s harder to do than you think. Follow up with the complaining party by calendaring three months down the road, and develop a feedback loop. If you do wind up in court, this is what you want the suing employee to relay to the judge: “My employer followed up with me so I felt good.” You win. Investigation is not a dirty word. It’s clean and can help make your environment “sparkle.” You will almost always discover something in the process that will help improve the workplace.

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Applied’s COO, contributed to this article.

The Sexy Side of IT Security

Did we get your attention? The topic of informational technology (IT) security is boring, but so important. Most of the statistics are downright scary:

  • 52 percent of people email documents from work to home via personal email account
  • 66 percent of people that take work-related information home do not take time to delete or erase
  • 51 percent of companies have an IT security policy that is not strictly enforced
  • 65 percent of smaller organizations say that, in general, their organization’s sensitive or confidential business information is not encrypted or safeguarded by data loss protection technologies


When it’s done right, IT security can be sexy. Why? Confidence is sexy. If you are confident in the protection of your data, that’s attractive. Here are a few ways to get that confidence factor:

What are your employees downloading (and potentially taking home)

Think about how easy it would be to put a thumb drive in one of your office computers or printers and download confidential data. Do your sales people have their own cell phone versus a company phone? If yes, then they have an automatic database of clients. You can purchase software that detects downloading activity and alerts you.

What is your risk potential

Do you keep social security numbers, health or credit card information? Can employees open attachments to or click links embedded in spam? Do they leave their systems unattended? Do they not change their passwords frequently? Do they visit restricted sites? If you answered yes to any or all, your business data is at risk. There are very specific laws out there – especially for credit cards and health info – with which you must comply.

Do you have any policies?

Even the best security technology can be defeated by bad practices and human error. A security policy stipulates what should and should not be done. It addresses three security properties: confidentiality, integrity and availability. Many employees do not even comprehend that the work they create at work is not their own. If it is work done on company time and equipment, it belongs to the company. Reviewing what your employees do and do not have access to is critical.

Are you assuming your provider has it?

Your IT department or contracted service can monitor and initiate IT security controls for you. Our employees cannot access certain sites that have to do with hot buttons like alcohol, as our IT administrator has blocked content.

The basic assumption is you’re compromised. You have to assume somebody is on your network right now, sitting there and learning and watching what you’re doing. What will you do today to be confident and sexy in your IT security management?

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

Sure There Is Plenty of Time To Get Your Job Done

So, how are things going? Although the common response in the past was “fine,” we more often hear “busy” as a response. Culturally, busy has become a more attractive term than fine. Perhaps the recession taught us that if we were busy, we were doing okay. Even if we weren’t busy, we wanted the perception to be that we were because that equated to being successful. This trend recently prompted a viral New Year’s resolution on Facebook not to use the word “busy” at all in 2014. When you think about your life – work and home – is it true that you are busy all the time? Here are some ideas to ponder:

The workday

It is truly a job to be in control of my time. I’ve been saying for years that multitasking – including email – is highly inefficient. We have more time than we think we do. When you say, “I don’t have time for this,” truth is you have not made the time for it because people on average work 5.5 or 6 hours out of an 8-hour day.

To schedule or not to schedule

Sometimes we find ourselves in what feels like a perpetual meeting all day long. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to be there?” Set your priorities and make a choice. Be sure you can trust others to attend meetings and debrief you. If you keep your calendar in 15-minute increments, you’ll think about how precious those 15 minutes are.

Leave me alone

Down time is important. Whether you are catching up on industry news, or getting organized, understanding the impact on the rest of your team is crucial. Do they have authority if you are not available? Is delegation an expectation that you have of each other under certain circumstances?

It is not due to incompetence

If there is someone on your team who has a hard time getting their “job done” maybe the work process is wrong. Maybe they have too much workload, especially since companies are still relying on part-timers to do a full time job.

It sparks creativity and creates new opportunities

Work processes may be more involved than they need to be. Being in control of your day allows time to simplify. Exploring is part of good management. For example, we just implemented better staffing software, which should allow 20 percent more business with the same number of people.

As we get organized, we become more efficient. I recently went back to the “new” old Franklin Day Planner and cannot wait to be more in control of my day in 2014. When was the last time you felt there was plenty of time to get your work done?

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

The Case for Background Checks

Ten years ago in this market, it was not common for companies to require drug tests and background checks. Today, 95 percent of employers require background checks, partially due to the workplace theft, violence and negligent hiring litigation. There are other “softer” factors in play: negative effects on morale and performance; the loss of reputation; and the damage done to an employment brand when poor candidates are hired. These factors do come into play in the competitions for recruiting and retaining A players.

They Should Be Part of Your Hiring Process

Typically, you can find a service to perform the related tasks for less than $100 per candidate depending on the level of background check and whether it is multistate or national.

How to do it legally

Overall process – Take into account these steps: 1) a candidate has to sign off on the fact that you will be doing this check; 2) interview the candidate; 3) extend the job offer first to avoid discrimination and state, “As a condition of employment you must agree to run a background check”;  4) Have a policy and procedure; and  5)  if there is a contrary decision, the candidate/employee has to be notified.

Background Checks – The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that refusing to hire individuals based on criminal convictions disproportionately excludes applicants of certain minority groups. If an applicant has a record of a conviction, the EEOC urges employers to consider the nature and seriousness of the offense, the relationship of the offense to the job and the length of time that has passed since conviction or incarceration.

Credit Checks – Effective Oct. 1, 2013, the State of Nevada is implementing limitations to employers conducting credit checks on employees or applicants. “Employers may not directly or indirectly obtain a consumer credit report or other credit information from an applicant or employee as a condition of employment. Employers are further restricted from using, accepting, referring to or inquiring about a credit report or credit information.” There are exceptions: required/authorized under state or federal law; the employer reasonably believes employee/applicant engaged in specific activity that may constitute a violation of state or federal law; or if the credit report is reasonably related to the position.

How to use the information for employment decisions

A background check is a starting point, one of many things that should be factored into a hire. There is always a black, white and grey line. That grey line may not only be giving someone a second chance, but may also turn out to be one of the best hires you will ever make.

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article. 

Hiring Trends

It’s a new year. Forget the day-to-day for a minute. Take your best guess at what the next two to five years will look like. The Applied Companies considers the experts at ITR Economics when making decisions. For 60 years, ITR has been offering its clients a look at the future with a 94.7 percent forecast accuracy rate – plus they provide specific, actionable strategies for capitalizing on cyclical opportunities and dodging economic danger. According to ITR, as a country, we are definitely past the recovery stage. We will have a slight dip in the economy in 2014 as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) begins to impact the economy, which will show signs of weakness as people will start paying the taxes as a result of pay or play. Subsequently, they suggest that we will have years of significant continuous growth until 2018 – 2020. Here are some thing to consider.

 Consider the Leading Indicators

 In addition to the following, identify the leading indicators in your business and your particular industry.

  • Housing Starts
  • Corporate Bond Prices
  • Conference Board Leading Indicator
  • Purchasing Managers Index
  • Consumer Expectations
  • Chicago Fed National Activity Index
  • ITR Leading Indicator (10 major benchmarks of macro activity)
  • US Total Industrial Production Forecast
  • Employment
  • Retail Sales
  • Wholesale Trade Durable Goods
  • Wholesale Trade Nondurable Goods
  • Business-to-Business Activity  (Non-Defense Capital Goods New Orders)


How You Will Approach the Growth Years

If you are not taking care of your employees, they will be gone. We are already seeing stiff competition for A players. When the economy really gets cranking between now and 2018, bank on your key people being seduced by rich benefit plans and perks, unless you offer as attractive a package. Remember the things that were taken away from employees when the economy was bad? If they have not been reinstated, readdressed or replaced, those employees will seek it elsewhere.

What It All Means

If you have not defined and refined your company’s HR structure, culture, and corporate social responsibility efforts, or have less than stellar leadership, now is the time to fix those issues. Do it before another company that has defined themselves and their “sales pitch” to potential employees starts to woo your best. Positions that were high in demand years ago may not be now. People receiving unemployment benefits limited at 99 weeks has already started diminishing as they maxed out and start to fall off the rolls. The unemployment rate is not a true indicator of the heavy bidding for top employees now and in the next few years.

Written by Jim Annis President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

How Does Santa Do It?

When we think about how Santa accomplishes all that he needs to, there is only one true answer: it’s his wife. Somebody has to run the place while he’s gallivanting around the world. Therefore, we decided to have some fun and create a parable in the form of a poem about how Santa – the CEO of the North Pole – is like today’s CEO in business. Enjoy as this takes the rhythm of “T’was the Night Before Christmas.”

T’was the Night Before Christmas and the CEO said,
“I can’t get these bright shiny objects out of my head.”
“I know my task for tonight is terribly clear,”
“But I’ve jumped ahead visioning about next year!”

 Mrs. Claus jumped right in and said, “Now focus Santa.”
“You’ve presents to deliver from Shanghai to Atlanta.”
“Work on those new initiatives when you return,”
“Because we’ve got your back here and we’re willing to learn.”

“Remember,” she said, “our roles are clearly defined.”
“You’re not pulling that sleigh by yourself, I’ll remind.”
“If you’re going to get off the ground and fly so high,”
“The team should work together, equal in the sky.”

 “It’s true,” said Santa. “We’ve all done very good work.”
“From the elves to the reindeer, no one is a shirk.”
“Let’s reward everyone with a great bonus plan,”
“And recognize success all year ‘cuz we can.”

“I know we finally have the right people in place,”
“Last year’s productivity was down. Failure we faced.”
“It took us a while to resolve all the mis-fits,”
“But now I would not change it, not one little bit,”

 “Santa,” she said, “you’re the networker of all time,”
“No one’s list rivals yours, and your CRM divine,”
“Who else would know everyone’s true greatest wishes?”
“From soft teddy bears to ornate Christmas dishes.”

 “I’m optimistic about our operation.”
“I’m thinking about an extended vacation!”
“New technology helps us to hit the mark,”
“This spiffy GPS is a cinch in the dark.”

“All should sleep well with our crisis action plan.”
“It will save us confusion just like Rudolph can.”
“Our clients and staff will be even safer.”
“No matter what type of fog we may face later.”

 “Dear wife,” said Santa, “those sweet sleigh bells are ringing.”
“Like the Polar Express book when I hear them dinging.”
“Saddens me kids grow up, can’t hear, stop believing,”
“I lead by example, giving not receiving.”

“Beliefs drive behaviors, my inner strategist screams.”
“To do the right thing daily and not just in dreams.”
“So I’ll shout from the rooftop, each house I alight,”
“Believe, hear the bells, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!

Written by Jim Annis President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

Steps To Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

Some of us are good at making our dreams a reality. There are others that don’t dare to dream.  Malcom Forbes once said, “When you cease to dream, you cease to live.” Dare to live by systematizing how to make your dreams your reality using the replicable process below.

• Visualize. Make all the jokes you want; visualization works. If you asked the most successful athletes in the world, I bet they employ this technique. The pro golfer envisions the ball going into the cup — every time. When you wake up in the morning, what drives you? What do you assume is at the other end of that day?   Using visualization gives you a road map from point A to point B.

• Plan. Plan work and work the plan. Think about what happens when you don’t plan. How do you feel? Is your list of accomplishments small or large? How do you know when you get “there” if you have not defined what that is?

• Commit. You will lose focus without commitment. Each day, my wife creates a physical list, the old-fashioned way with pencil and paper. A certain magic happens when you commit something to paper. It becomes real.

• Track progress. Have some small goals that are relatively simple to make a reality. Think of it like a “gimme” — a small win that takes the pressure off the big hurdles motivates you to keep moving forward. As a woodworker, three-quarters of my enjoyment of a project is planning it, with the goal in mind, taking one bite at a time. Building the measurable success factors and milestones fuels the drive to attend to the goal.

• Review. At The Applied Companies, our strategic plan is based on what the reality was at the time of creation. External factors come in to play that may not have been incorporated. We continually check the environment and, as a result, we learn and are more efficient and we break bad patterns.

• Celebrate. There is one true thing about achievement — it feels good. Human beings need and want to celebrate and have fun in the process. There is a different kind of fire there that spreads and that energy is contagious. In the purest sense, when you work hard, you play harder.

• Next steps: Achieve, repeat, live.

Written by Jim Annis President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller and Nissa Jimenez, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

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