Employee Discipline and Termination - Part 7: Investigating After Dismissal
Brent, in response to my last post, you promptly asked me what the organization should do when the allegations relate to a former employee. (Do psychologists always ask the tough questions?) In the case I mentioned, the former supervisor and his organization were sued for keeping quiet about questionable behavior, not removing ministerial credentials, and letting the man volunteer with children. (Of course, this is just what the lawsuit states, and anybody can sue anyone for a cup of coffee.) In some situations, the alleged perpetrator may have long left the mission, or even be dead.
Allegations about a former employee could be completely new, or they may revisit allegations that were raised earlier. The principles that apply to other investigations are still used, though in a slightly different way. Obviously, it is not technically an employment investigation if the person is no longer an employee.
The organization still has important questions to answer. First, might any children currently be in danger? Is the person still alive? Is he or she working? If so, where?
Second, are there reporting requirements? The laws on reporting child abuse vary in different U.S. and international jurisdictions depending on when the alleged abuse happened, whether the alleged victim is still a child, and who is still in the jurisdiction where the abuse is said to have happened.
Third, are there injured persons who may need healing? What is the mission’s responsibility to them?
Fourth, if this situation was raised before, what investigation was done? Was it adequate? What, if anything, needs to be revisited?
Fifth, to what extent is it possible to investigate? What evidence from witnesses or documents is obtainable?
While a situation like this has even fewer cut-and-dried answers than most child protection situations, some steps would be typical. A preliminary investigation should establish what was done before, whether there is reasonable suspicion, and whether a report to authorities is needed. It can answer the question of whether other children might be in danger. For instance, if the alleged perpetrator died twenty years ago, that is one thing, but quite different if he is now principal of an elementary school.
In very old cases, reaching out to potential victims who did not contact you is a judgment call. Approaches vary greatly. Some advocate doing nothing unless alleged victims come forward. If you do nothing, nothing may happen—but you haven’t helped the injured and you haven’t showed a proactive response. Some advocate a very aggressive campaign to contact all people who may have been exposed to the alleged perpetrator. This approach may locate victims, but may be over-inclusive (generating false claims), and may also re-injure people who have moved on and don’t want to revisit the issues.
Care and wisdom is needed to decide how far to take the investigation and who should be interviewed. While the best approach may usually be somewhere between these two positions, it depends a lot on the particular case. In any case, if the mission’s overall child protection policies are robust, people in the mission should understand there is a standing invitation to report child abuse.
Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion
Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations