When an employee alleges that their employer is engaged in unethical behavior, the next step in any case is an ethics investigation. There are many different types of unethical behavior that may warrant an ethics investigation, and having an experienced employment law attorney by your side during this process can protect your job and your rights as an employee. If you would like to learn more about filing a claim for unethical behavior in the workplace around Baltimore, the knowledgeable employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP are here to help. Call the office or contact us today to learn more.
Adverse Employment Actions
Ethics investigations are often instigated when an employer takes an illegal adverse employment action against an employee. The term “adverse employment action” encompasses a number of different things that an employer can do to their employee. Some examples of adverse employment actions that can spur an ethics investigation include the following:
- Reduction in pay
- Denial of promotion or pay raise
- Creating unmanageable workloads
- Scheduling the worst hours
- Poor performance reviews
- Disciplinary actions
- Transfer to a less desirable location, and more.
Typically, an adverse employment action occurs as a result of discrimination, harassment, or discovery of criminal activity in the workplace. It also occurs because an employee agrees to participate in investigations or proceedings against the employer for this type of activity.
Discrimination ethics investigations are required if an employee believes that their employer is discriminating against them due to their actual or perceived belonging to a protected class. There are many characteristics protected from discrimination, including race, color, national origin, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy status, disability status, genetic information, and more.
It is also important to note that an employer can be found liable in an ethics investigation for discrimination against employees as well as job applicants. If someone applies for a job and is denied because the employer discriminated against them, they may have a claim against that employer for damages. The human resources department usually performs an initial investigation of discrimination claims, but it can be elevated to a governmental agency for further investigation.
Ethics investigations are also required if an employee is harassed in the workplace by their employer or others at work. There are two main types of harassment — a hostile work environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment. A hostile work environment can be created by anyone in the workplace, including coworkers, supervisors, customers, and clients. It involves harassment that is either so pervasive or severe that it impacts an employee’s ability to do their job.
The second type of harassment is quid pro quo sexual harassment, and this type of harassment can only be perpetrated by a supervisor or person in a position of power over the employee. Quid pro quo harassment involves the solicitation of sexual favors in exchange for employment benefits, which can include the avoidance of adverse employment actions. Human resources typically handles the initial investigation of harassment claims, but it can be elevated to a governmental agency.
Workplace Violence or Criminal Activity
The last type of activity that may require an ethics investigation in the workplace is when an employee suspects criminal activity or when workplace violence occurs. Whistleblower laws protect employees who report illegal or unethical activity when government contracts are involved, and law enforcement can protect workers who report criminal or violent activity in the workplace. Governmental agencies and law enforcement typically handle these types of claims instead of the human resources department.
How Does an Investigation Work?
Depending on the circumstances of the case, an ethics investigation may be initiated by the human resources department, a governmental agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or other law enforcement agency. If the human resources department of the employer handles the ethics investigation, a member of that department will review statements, speak with employees and others involved, and will likely try to resolve the issue with as little upset as possible. Unfortunately, this often means that an employee does not get the outcome they hope for, and many perpetrators come out of human resources investigations unscathed. When this happens, the next step is to take the investigation to a governmental agency or law enforcement.
If a governmental agency handles the ethics investigation, an investigator will come to the employee’s workplace and begin collecting information about the case. This evidence can take many forms, including document production of emails, instant messages, or texts in addition to interviews with employees, supervisors, and others who either witnessed or were informed of the unethical behavior alleged by the employee. Once the evidence gathering is complete, the agency will render a decision on whether there is enough to warrant the claim of discrimination or harassment in the workplace. If so, the agency will handle the resolution, which may include damages for the employee, termination of the offending coworker or supervisor in the workplace, and other compensation for the wrong. If the agency does not find enough evidence, the employee receives a “right to sue” letter that allows them to take their case to court.
Why You Need an Employment Lawyer
An employment law attorney can be incredibly helpful during an ethics investigation. An attorney can ensure that an investigation is done in good faith and handled properly. A lawyer can protect an employee’s identity and confidential information and ensure that an investigation is done with impartiality. An employment lawyer can check for any conflicts of interest and prevent retaliation by the employer for reporting possible misconduct. An attorney can also help with securing unbiased testimonials from those witnessing or involved in the incidents and ensure that the investigation does not drag on and is completed in a timely manner. To learn more, talk to our office today.
Talk to Our Office Now
If you have been subjected to discrimination, harassment, or criminal conduct in the workplace an ethics investigation is likely the next step in your case. To learn more about how an experienced employment lawyer can help, call the office or contact us today at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP today to schedule a consultation of your claims.