Unfortunately, resolving complaints about discrimination and other violations of professional ethics is rarely a simple matter. It often involves months, if not years, of escalation and antagonism. This is sometimes due to managers, officials, and others in positions of power trying to scare people who witness their unethical behavior out of complaining. Ethics investigations are not for the faint of heart. If you are planning to file a discrimination complaint against your employer, you should contact the Alabama workplace ethics investigation lawyers at HKM Attorneys LLP as early in the investigation as possible, and the same goes if you are a co-worker or other third party in the investigation, besides the employee who filed the original complaint.
Alabama Business Ethics Law
Many investigations into violations of professional ethics have to do with employment discrimination, but that is not the only reason that workplace ethics investigations happen. Alabama’s Ethics Law aims to ensure a high standard of ethical conduct among public sector employees. These are some of the highlights of Alabama’s business ethics law:
- Public sector employees must file disclosure notices every year about their own financial interests and those of their close family members.
- Employees must not use their status as employees of the state or county to exert undue influence on private businesses. (For example, an employee of the county Health Department cannot threaten to fabricate health code violations and close a restaurant down if the restaurant owner does not give him free food.)
- The Alabama Constitution forbids intentional misuse of public funds by government employees.
- It is against the law for employers to retaliate against an employee for reporting a violation of professional ethics by a coworker or supervisor or for participating in an investigation into an ethics violation.
Do Your Research Before Filing a Discrimination Complaint Against Your Employer
Whereas on the Internet it is sometimes possible to make trolls and bullies slink away into obscurity just by calling them out on their objectionable behavior, that rarely happens in the workplace. Employers who are determined to make you miserable because of your race, gender, or disability are rarely content to mend their ways simply because you asked them to. More often, they will deny that their behavior counts as discrimination or harassment and will instead blame you or accuse you of fabricating your allegations. Therefore, the best way to initiate your employment discrimination claim from a position of strength is to document all the incidents of discrimination that you have experienced in the workplace and to strategize with a lawyer before you formally notify the human resources department at your office or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about your discrimination complaint.
Remember that discrimination can take many forms. It does not always involve employers calling you by derogatory names or refusing to hire you. The law prohibits discrimination based on any of these protected characteristics:
- Race, color, national origin, or ethnic background
- Religion, denomination, or lack of religious belief
- Sex, gender identity, gender presentation, or sexual orientation
- Age, if you are over 40
- Disability, and in some instances pre-existing medical conditions that do not cause major enough impairments in your daily life to fit the medical definition of a disability
- Marital status, having children, planning to have children, or being able to have children
These are some actions by employers that count as employment discrimination:
- Refusing to hire you because of a protected characteristic Wrongful termination of employment
- Denial of a promotion
- An unfairly negative performance review
- An unfairly negative reference to prospective employers after you have left the job
- Creating a hostile work environment through harassment
- Retaliation after you complain about discrimination or request a reasonable accommodation for a disability
To make a credible complaint about some of these forms of discrimination, you must show that there was a pattern of behavior by your employer. For example, if you complain that a work supervisor is harassing you, and you only cite one instance where he told a racist joke in your presence, your complaint will not be nearly as strong as if you cite many examples of things your supervisor said and did to upset you and make you uncomfortable. Likewise, if a company did not hire you, and you think it is because you are a mother of school-aged children, you should show a pattern of behavior where all the recent hires are men, childless women, or much older women whose children were adults when the mothers were hired.
What is Retaliation?
Retaliation is an important concept in legal cases involving workplace ethics investigations. It is when an employer takes action against you to punish you for complaining about discrimination or unethical conduct by the employer or for requesting an accommodation for a disability. The law prohibits retaliation against employees for any of the reasons listed above and also for participating in investigations about discrimination, misconduct, or ethical violations by another employee or supervisor. Even though retaliation is against the rules, employers often feel emboldened to retaliate against employees who complain or who cooperate with investigations.
The best way to protect yourself against retaliation for initiating an investigation into discrimination or misconduct by a person in a position of power at your workplace or participating in an existing investigation is to work closely with an employment lawyer, starting from an early stage in the process. Your lawyer can answer your questions accurately and can give you sound advice about what your next move should be, no matter how underhanded your employer’s actions become.
Contact an Alabama Ethics Investigation Lawyer
If you experience discrimination in the workplace, you have the right to file a complaint about it and initiate an investigator into the behavior you are alleging on the part of your employer. An employment lawyer can help you move forward with an ethics investigation into your employer’s discrimination against you or against a co-worker without fear of retaliation. Contact the Alabama ethics investigation lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP to set up a consultation.