Many of us have witnessed shady, unethical, or downright illegal activities at our workplace. Maybe you saw your work supervisor be deliberately sloppy about record-keeping, or perhaps the workplace environment was such that everyone knew not to complain about the flirtatious manager, even though his behavior made them uncomfortable. In some industries, people have never seen their coworkers sober. If you were only in such a work environment for a short time, your strategy was probably just to look for a new job and get out of your dysfunctional work environment as quickly as possible. You have the right to complain about unethical actions at work, and if someone else complains, you have the right to participate in an investigation that results from the complaint. The Pittsburgh workplace ethics investigation lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you initiate an ethics investigation in your workplace or cope with an ongoing investigation.
Why Do Workplace Investigations Happen?
All industries are subject to legal regulations, and they all undergo inspection and evaluation by regulators to ensure compliance. If regulators see evidence of wrongdoing at a place of employment, they might conduct a more detailed investigation into the extent of the violations. These are some common ways in which workplaces break the law:
- Not paying employees enough or not paying overtime rates for eligible hours worked
- Unsafe conditions in the workplace that endanger employees, customers, or the public
- Falsifying records and making false statements on invoices, tax returns, or other documents
- Employing workers who are not legally eligible to hold employment in the United States
- Discrimination against employees or job applicants on the basis of race, disability, or other protected characteristic
- Retaliating against workers who complain about any of the above violations or any other kind of misconduct
Workplace investigations can be stressful for everyone involved. If you are not sure what to do when your workplace is being investigated, or if you think that a formal investigation is the only way to solve the widespread problems at your job, it is never too soon to contact a workplace ethics investigation lawyer.
Can You Get in Trouble Because of an Investigation in Your Workplace?
Sometimes employees do things that they know are against the rules because they are following instructions from their employers. They do not speak up for fear of losing their jobs. How much responsibility do you bear for participating in misconduct at your workplace or for witnessing unethical actions over a long period of time without saying anything? It depends. Whether you are worried about your employer retaliating against you once the investigation begins or about penalties from outside authorities, such as getting your professional license suspended, being the target of a lawsuit from someone who suffered financial losses or physical injuries because of your employer’s misconduct, or even facing criminal penalties, there are plenty of worries associated with an ethics investigation.
In general, it is best to cooperate with the investigation. If you are worried that what you say can make things worse, you should contact a lawyer as soon as you find out that there is going to be an investigation. If answering questions truthfully could result in you getting criminal charges, you have the right to plead the Fifth Amendment, which protects all persons against being compelled to make self-incriminating statements. A lawyer can help you understand better when pleading the Fifth Amendment is a possibility and when it is appropriate.
Your Rights Regarding Ethics Investigations
Filing a complaint that leads to an ethics investigation at your place of employment is a legally protected activity. It is also a protected activity to report violations, noncompliance, or misconduct to the relevant authorities, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). In the context of employment law, a protected activity is something that the employee has the right to do, and the employer does not have the right to take adverse action against the employee in response. Taking adverse action against an employee because of a protected activity is known as employer retaliation. The following are examples of adverse actions taken by employers against employees:
- Excessive scrutiny of employees and their work
- Unfairly negative performance reviews
- Harassment, bullying, or hostile work environment
- Demotion or involuntary transfer of work schedule, work location, or job duties
- Denial of promotions or raises
- Reduction of pay
- Termination of employment
- Negative references when a former employee seeks a new job
In other words, if a regulatory body conducts an investigation into alleged misconduct in your workplace, and you provide information for the investigation, it is against the law for your employer to retaliate against you. If your employer fires you, demotes you, or otherwise takes an adverse action against you because of your role in an ethics investigation at your place of employment, you have the right to sue your employer for retaliation or wrongful termination of employment.
The False Claims Act, a federal law that has been on the books since 1863, provides additional protection for employees who report misconduct by their employers in the form of fraudulent claims paid by the federal government. A common type of whistleblower action covered under the False Claims Act is healthcare fraud in the form of false claims paid by Medicare or Medicaid. Whistleblower actions filed pursuant to the False Claims Act are known as qui tam actions. The whistleblower notifies the federal entity which is the victim of the fraud, and if the federal entity sues the employer and recovers damages, the whistleblower is entitled to a share of the damages award.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Ethics Investigations
The Philadelphia employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can advise employees who need to report employer misconduct or whose workplaces are under investigation or at risk of being investigated. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to set up a consultation.