Some work supervisors are just plain unpleasant to work with, but the employees stay because the pay is good or because they have a good relationship with their coworkers. Unless the way that the boss treats employees is truly abusive, then the best way to deal with it is to raise your concerns directly with your supervisor, or else with the human resources department. If the behavior of your direct supervisors or high-ranking managers and executives in your organization violates the law or endangers the public, however, you can and should complain to the relevant regulatory agencies. If you have observed illegal and unethical behavior in your workplace, you are probably not the only one who noticed it. Allegations of misconduct by employers lead first to investigations before they can lead to legal actions. What are your rights if you file the complaint that initiates an investigation, and what are your rights if you did not file the complaint, but your workplace is under investigation because of allegations of misconduct? The Houston ethics investigation lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you navigate the thorny situation of workplace ethics investigations.
Employment Discrimination Investigations
Allegations of employment discrimination are a common reason for ethics investigations in workplaces. In fact, investigations are a prerequisite for any employment discrimination lawsuit. The law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics such as race, sex, family status, religion, age, and disability. Discriminatory actions can include refusal to hire, harassment, unfairly poor performance reviews, undesired reassignments of duties or work schedules, refusal of promotions or raises, demotions, and termination of employment or pressure to resign.
Employment discrimination lawsuits filed in court require the participation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Before you can sue your current or former employer, you must contact the EEOC and meet with an EEOC representative. Based on your initial meeting and the documentation you provide, the EEOC will conduct a preliminary investigation and may find additional evidence that your employer has taken discriminatory actions against you or other employees at your organization. Contacting the EEOC about discrimination in your workplace is a legally protected activity, and so is cooperating with an EEOC investigation that you personally did not initiate. You can and should work with an employment lawyer during all phases of a discrimination complaint.
Whistleblower Actions and the False Claims Act
Discrimination is not the only kind of wrongdoing in workplaces that authorities find out about because of employee reports. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigates allegations of workplace safety violations. If you witness financial crimes, such as fraud or embezzlement, or any other illegal activity at your workplace, you have the right to report these actions to law enforcement. Reporting safety violations to OSHA and crimes to the police are also protected activities.
If your employer provides goods or services to the federal government or the military, the False Claims Act protects your rights to engage in whistleblower actions. The False Claims Act has been on the books since the Civil War when it aimed to solve the problem of vendors selling food and other supplies to the military at inflated prices. The law applies to any kind of fraud where any federal entity is a victim, though. Today, most False Claims Act cases relate to healthcare providers filing fraudulent claims with publicly funded programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. If you have evidence of your employer defrauding a federal entity, the False Claims Act entitles you to file a qui tam action, meaning that you report the fraud to the government, and it investigates whether to file a lawsuit against the company that has allegedly been defrauding it. If the government proceeds with the lawsuit, the employee who filed the qui tam action has the right to receive a percentage of the money that the government receives in the form of a settlement or judgment resulting from the lawsuit.
How to Protect Yourself if Your Employer is Suspected of Wrongdoing
The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who file complaints within the organization or report misconduct to regulatory bodies. Despite this, your employer might go out of their way to make life difficult for you if they find out that you have filed a complaint or answered questions from investigators. If there is misconduct going on at your workplace, it is a good idea to talk to an employment lawyer before you report the misconduct to authorities outside your place of employment. Your lawyer can help you gather the evidence you need so that you can persuade the regulators that you are credible and that it is worthwhile to conduct an investigation.
Working for a company where discrimination, safety hazards, and financial crime are present is stressful whether or not an investigation is going on. Even though employment laws outline a long list of protections for employees, employers often try to intimidate employees out of exercising these rights. Things are even more stressful when an investigation is ongoing. You might worry not only that your employer will retaliate against you but also that you could face additional legal problems. If the investigation is about criminal activity at your company, you might even wonder whether you should plead the Fifth Amendment if you think that answering questions truthfully will expose you to criminal charges.
Employment lawyers can help employees whose workplaces are investigated for financial crime, mistreatment of workers, or safety hazards. You should also contact an employment lawyer regarding disputes with your employer over pay or employment contracts.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, About Ethics Investigations
The Houston employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you if an ethics investigation is going on at your workplace, or if you have seen evidence of wrongdoing, and you think that regulators would want to conduct an investigation into it. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Houston, Texas, to set up a consultation.