Don't Turn Workplace Investigations Into Inquisitions

Don't Turn Workplace Investigations Into Inquisitions iStockphoto.com

Owners of retail businesses are concerned about customer and employee thefts. So when items go missing, and customers have no access to them, they take a hard look at employees.

But as Sindy Warren explains on Warren & Associates’ Our Blog, employers must be careful that a workplace investigation doesn’t become an employee interrogation.

Warren, whose firm specializes in workplace investigations, cites a New York Times article involving an internal investigation at AutoZone. She says former employee Chris Polston was asked to help with a theft investigation. He reportedly agreed, but ended up in an overstock room for more than two hours, where he was allegedly accused of stealing auto parts. She says the investigator insisted he could not leave until he confessed, so he “falsely” admitted to not paying for a candy bar and soda. He was fired for his alleged thefts.

Polston is now suing AutoZone and the investigator; his case goes to trial in Houston this summer. In recent years, Warren says several suits have been filed against AutoZone and other retail giants based on false confessions.

“This type of interrogation has actually become somewhat commonplace in the retail world,” Warren says. She adds that interrogations are a “big fat DON’T,” advising investigators to “treat all witnesses with respect and dignity.”

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