Let’s talk about policies—the types of policies you should have and how people can report without either personnel or the company running into problems with retaliation.
You want your policies to cover issues like the following: sexual harassment, discrimination, child safety, expected conduct and discipline, unethical business practices, unsafe conditions, suspected violations of securities laws (if that applies), social media, and computer use/electronic information. Your conduct and discipline policies should also prohibit retaliation. Finally, a separate whistle-blower policy is a good idea.
An important piece in avoiding these sticky situations is to have a complaint or grievance procedure. Simplest is a standard procedure for all complaints and grievances.
I notice that the procedure is pretty informal in your hypothetical. People come to Mission Leader with complaints, and he investigates to the best of his ability. But it doesn’t seem to be clearly defined what you can complain about or what that process is. And the lack of process may land Mission Leader in trouble.
First, policies aren’t much good if you don’t actively encourage people to report. Did I just say what you thought I said? Yes! Encourage people to report! No, this is not because I am an attorney trying to drum up business. If you encourage people to report, you do two things. First, you solve problems when they are small—it’s frustrated people who consider legal action. Second, it shows that you, as an organization, never retaliate. This organization is frustrated with Tom and Sally for their numerous complaints, but it sounds like the organization also needs to have leadership commitment to encourage reporting.
You need a formal procedure for complaints. There should be at least two persons to report to, so there is a backup person if the first person is the subject of the complaint. Probably your attorney should not be one of these two people. Setting aside the cost of having your attorney field complaints, you don’t want to make your attorney into a fact witness—the best use of your attorney is to advise you.
In your hypothetical, it sounds like Tom and Sally had no one to complain to about their mission leader when they believed he was covering up for Bill. The procedure should provide a fair and impartial investigative process. Tom and Sally may have gotten a fair investigation on their complaint about Bill, but it’s anyone’s guess, because there was no defined procedure in place. In addition, there was no procedure for the new investigation for their complaint about Mission Leader. The procedure should contain a guarantee of protection for good faith complaints. This protects people like Tom and Sally when they complain. (But employees who complain in bad faith—lying, malice, and so on—can be disciplined. The problem here is we don’t know if Tom and Sally were acting in good faith in their accusations of Mission Leader, because it wasn’t investigated.)
Next time I post, I’ll talk more about points with the investigation.
Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion