Being under scrutiny is scary, even if you have nothing to hide. When a police officer pulls you over for a traffic stop, for example, you start to worry about all the things that could attract suspicion. Are you sure that your driver’s license is still valid? Are the cops going to think that the bubble gum wrappers your kid left in the back seat are acid tabs, and will the K-9 corroborate the cop’s suspicion? By the time the cop comes to the window of your car and asks if you have your driver’s license with you, you mean to say, “Yes,” but somehow it comes out as, “Honest, I never killed a living creature except for that time in sixth grade when my cousin put me up to shooting a toad with a BB gun.” Workplace ethics investigations are just as nerve-wracking because no matter what you say and what you do, you are going to end up on someone’s bad side. The San Francisco ethics investigations lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you abide by the law and exercise your rights during an ethics investigation at your place of employment.
Why Do Workplace Investigations Happen in San Francisco?
Workplace investigations can take many different forms, but they usually begin because someone complains to an authority figure about someone doing something wrong at your place of employment. There are as many different combinations of workplace ethics investigations (“Susie in accounting complained to the EEOC about her supervisor Bob’s sexist comments”) as there are possible solutions to the game of Clue (“Professor Plum in the conservator with the lead pipe”). The investigation could be internal to your organization, with the company’s own administrators doing the investigating, or it could be an external investigation and involve regulatory bodies or local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies. These are just a few of the many possible scenarios that workplace ethics investigations can take:
- OSHA investigates after an employee complains about unsafe working conditions, such as the employer not providing the legally required safety equipment and training.
- A patient’s family complains about nursing home neglect and understaffing, leading to an investigation.
- An employee complains to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about discrimination, and as a prerequisite to authorizing the employee to file a discrimination lawsuit, the EEOC conducts an investigation into discrimination at the workplace in order to corroborate the employee’s statements.
- A pediatrician calls Child Protective Services because a patient has told her that he has been suffering physical abuse from his parents. The abuse has been going on for a long time, and Child Protective Services believes that the employees of the child’s school should have noticed that something was wrong and reported it.
- The Department of Justice investigates your workplace because they suspect that some financial transactions made by the company’s officers could be evidence of financial crimes such as money laundering or embezzlement.
How Does a Workplace Ethics Investigation Affect Your Employment?
Ethics investigations at your workplace are your problem because you work there, whether you were directly involved in the misconduct or not. When regulators or law enforcement ask you questions about potential violations of the law at your workplace, you cannot just ignore them; you must answer, even if it means making your employer look bad. Remember that saying, “I do not know,” is a valid answer if it is true. It could be that you do not know anything that would help the police in their investigation. You sit in your cubicle and do your work while the CEO holes up in his corner office, and for all you know, he could just as easily be playing Farmville or shopping for tea cozies on Amazon as engaging in insider trading.
Cooperating with an investigation into misconduct or crimes at your workplace is a legally protected activity. Your employer does not have the right to fire you, harass you, or take adverse actions against you because of your compliance with the investigation. If your employer penalizes you for participating in the investigation, this is employer retaliation, and you have the right to sue your employer for it.
Can You Get Into Legal Trouble Because of Misconduct That Happened at Your San Francisco Workplace?
If your employer committed a crime, and you knowingly participated, your misgivings do not justify your actions. If you knew that the data your employer was telling you to type into the spreadsheets was false, you could still be guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering, for example. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution prevents the courts and the police from coercing anyone into confessing to a crime. If a police officer asks you what you knew about the crime, you cannot lie, but you can plead the Fifth Amendment if answering truthfully could lead to you receiving criminal charges.
It is possible to plead the Fifth Amendment during depositions in civil cases. For example, during a civil investigation into the 2016 fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland that killed 36 people, the owner of the warehouse, Chor Ng, invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself and refused to testify.
When You are the First to Speak Up About Ethical Violations at Your San Francisco Workplace
Cooperating with an investigation that surprises you as much as it surprises your bosses who just got caught red-handed is a protected activity, but so is filing the complaint that triggers the investigation in the first place. Whistleblower actions, such as complaining to OSHA about workplace safety violations or notifying the relevant regulatory authorities about fraud or cheating at your workplace, are not justifiable reasons for your employer to take adverse action against you. If you fear that the risk of retaliation is high before you make the whistleblower complaint, then it helps to start working with an employment lawyer as early in the process as possible.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Ethics Investigations in San Francisco
The San Francisco employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you cope with ethics investigations at your workplace. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in San Francisco, California, to set up a consultation.