A recent Seattle PI article may make you think twice before you eat out. Or, it may make you happy to know employers take health and safety standards seriously. One of Pizza Hut’s West Virginia restaurants has temporarily closed after a district manager was caught urinating into a sink. The district manager was fired after Pizza Hut became aware of the surveillance video showing the manager relieving himself. Fortunately the incident occurred during non-business hours, and thus no food was being prepared. But, it did take place in the food preparation area. The restaurant is being cleaned under the supervision of the local county health department, as the incident created a public health hazard.
Pizza Hut has a strict policy on operating standards, particularly with food safety and food handling procedures. The restaurant owner followed the company’s zero tolerance policy in promptly firing the district manager. Even though the manager’s action created negative press for company and caused the store to close and lose revenue, Pizza Hut’s prompt actions are a positive sign of a proactive and conscientious company.
If an employer suspects or is alerted to a potential employment issue, a prompt investigation and resolution can avert greater problems and legal woes. In fact, the governmental agencies that deal with employment matters prefer employment issues to be addressed internally so they do not reach a point at which the agency has to interfere. In situations like the one at Pizza Hut, employers need to notify government agencies, like the health department, but generally do not need to conduct a significant amount of investigation. Video evidence makes for fairly strong proof of a policy violation. However, other situations require more detailed and delicate investigations. Additionally, it is important for workplace investigation to be as neutral and conscientious of both employer and employee rights as possible.
Employers have the right to investigate potential employment concerns. And they have the right to search their property and, in certain situations, their employees’ property. However, they need to be aware of employees’ rights to privacy and personal property. For instance, employers in Washington have to meet specific requirements in order to legally request an employee’s social media passwords.
While most employers know to investigate concerns and complaints promptly, some employers are less certain on how to conduct investigations without creating additional legal problems, or how to resolve issues when they are found. Improper handling of employment issues can create further complications for those involved and legal liabilities for employers. In many instances, maintaining employees’ privacy in regards to complaints and investigation results, as well as discipline, can avoid legal actions by those potentially disgruntled employees. And clear new rules and policies that address the issues, with enough explanation to illustrate the purpose, provide protections against future improper behavior and demonstrate a proactive resolution. However, some situations may require outside assistance. If you are concerned with legal liability or want a legal consultant during a workplace investigation, an experienced HKM employment law attorney can help.