Growing issues in the news have sparked a national conversation about sexual harassment. We asked Katherine Lemire about the investigations used by organizations in response to harassment and criminal behavior.
President of Lemire LLC, former Federal prosecutor and previously Counsel to New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Katherine and her team of experts assist businesses, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and individuals in compliance, investigations, due diligence, risk mitigation, and dispute resolution.
Lemire LLC has conducted investigations into allegations of employee harassment. How common are they and at what point in the situation are you brought in?
It is difficult to say how common such investigations are because a proper investigation should be conducted in a confidential manner to the extent possible. If the facts uncovered in the course of an investigation do not support the allegations, it is of critical importance that the reputation of the accused employee remain untarnished. Even in those cases which result in findings supporting harassment allegations, the accuser also may voice concerns that he or she is not identified as the basis for the investigation.
In the best case scenario we are brought in soon after the allegations surface. Federal law requires a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into allegations in the workplace. Statutory requirements aside, prompt investigations serve as a bulwark against the inevitable erosion of witnesses’ memories. Acting in a rapid, thorough, and unbiased manner when responding to allegations can also serve to boost the morale of employees who might otherwise believe that management does not view these workplace issues in a serious manner.
You have said that organizations are becoming more proactive about weeding out potentially illegal and unethical conduct before and after the commencement of a criminal investigation. Is harassment considered “criminal?” If not, does it signal potential criminal behavior?
Harassment can be considered criminal if it rises to the level of conduct violating law. In New York State, for example, repeated unwanted contact, including repeated phone calls, can result in criminal charges.
Many corporations as well as government and non-profit organizations know they have harassment issues in the workplace. How could they have avoided that before making an important new hire?
Due diligence may reveal aspects of a prospective hire’s history which could serve as warning signs. A solid due diligence investigation might include, for example, a review of the candidate’s social media postings, litigation history, and complaints filed with regulatory authorities.
What type of internal investigations does Lemire recommend for organizations to minimize and prevent harassment and similar issues?
The key focus should be on a prompt and thorough investigation conducted in an impartial manner. Stalling in response to complaints and failing to interview particular witnesses could expose an organization to liability. Likewise, to insulate itself from charges of bias and failing to conduct the investigation in a thorough manner, organizations should engage a firm specializing in this work to conduct the investigation.
Katherine Lemire is a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, where she investigated complex federal crimes. She also served as a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office where she investigated and prosecuted a broad array of criminal cases from grand jury proceedings through trial. As Counsel to Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, she provided advice and counsel on a wide range of sensitive matters affecting the NYPD, while overseeing management initiatives. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Above & Beyond Award for Outstanding Women in Business (2017). Lemire LLC is a certified woman-owned business enterprise (WBE).
This is the seventeenth in a series of interviews with experts whose work relates to online reputation management.