Document every step in investigation.

When you launch an investigation into suspected wrongdoing, be sure to document each step you take. Employees who get fired are very likely to file lawsuits. Their lawyers will surely scrutinize your investigation for any evidence that you took shortcuts or were biased in some way against their client.

It's up to HR to prepare for that possibility by showing that the investigation was based on valid business reasons and that you applied the process even-handedly. In court, good records can help prove your good faith.

Recent case: Montrell, who is gay, worked for HCA Human Resources for less than two years. The company had a tuition-reimbursement plan, and Montrell quickly signed up to advance his education.

In late December of his second year at HCA, Montrell told a high-level manager about his sexual orientation.

Around the same time, he also submitted a tuition-reimbursement request for a semester's university studies. HR denied the request, noting that Montrell hadn't received prior approval before the semester began. Montrell asked HR to reconsider his request. When it reopened his file, HR...

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