Nothing can make you more self-conscious than knowing that someone is watching your every move. At work, almost everyone is under some degree of supervision, even if they have a collegial relationship with their direct supervisors. Routine performance reviews from within the organization are moderately stressful, as are such reviews from external regulators. The real stress begins when regulators from within or from outside your organization investigate a complaint about misconduct or legal violations.
Workplace ethics investigations can lead to anticipated or unanticipated fallout for everyone in the workplace, not only for the person who made the initial complaint and the people about whose actions the whistleblower claimed, but even for employees who considered themselves innocent bystanders to the alleged misconduct and those who did not even know that it had taken place until the investigation was in full swing. Employment laws give you the right to report misconduct in your workplace and to participate in workplace ethics investigations. The Spokane ethics investigation lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you understand your rights and avoid liability during an investigation into reports of misconduct at your place of employment.
Why Do Ethics Investigations Happen in the Workplace?
Most industries are subject to laws that contain provisions about regulatory oversight. Routine inspections and investigations are your industry’s way of preventing malpractice and misconduct in order to protect the public. If the inspection or routine investigation shows violations of regulations, the regulatory body will impose monetary fines on the business; if the business does not correct the violations that turned up in the investigation by a certain deadline, the fines will recur or increase, and the regulatory agency may even order the business to cease its operations.
You might have read in the news about restaurants that were forced to close temporarily because of health code violations regarding cleanliness or safe storage and handling of food. These violations are easy to repair; the employees would simply have to clean the restaurant according to regulators’ specifications and invite them back for a new inspection, as well as pay the fine. Therefore, most restaurants that close for health code violations reopen after only a few hours, without anyone getting sick.
Likewise, nursing homes undergo routine inspections to check for adequate staffing and patient care. Estate planning lawyers encourage people to look up a nursing home’s history of results of inspections before they choose it as a place where they would want to receive care. Fines for violations occur even if no patients have suffered adverse events because of inadequate staffing or nursing care errors.
Ethics investigations can also happen when an employee or customer of business reports alleged misconduct at the organization to regulators. This misconduct might have to do with any of the following issues:
- Unsafe working conditions
- An employer paying workers less than what it owes them
- An employer hiring workers without verifying that they are legally eligible for employment in the United States
- Attempts by businesses to avoid paying taxes
- Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, or another protected characteristic
- Retaliation by employers against employees who attempt to exercise their legal rights
- Criminal misconduct, such as money laundering or embezzlement
In other words, sometimes investigations are just an ordinary part of practicing your profession, and even though they might involve time-consuming paperwork and meetings when you are already otherwise busy with work, they are nothing to worry about because any problems they can detect are still fairly easy to fix. On the other hand, investigations that result from allegations of misconduct are much scarier because they can lead to the loss of jobs, lawsuits, and even criminal charges. It is a good idea to hire a workplace ethics investigations lawyer if your workplace is undergoing the second type of inspection.
The Rights of Employees Regarding Workplace Ethics Investigations
Protected activities are legal rights that employees can exercise and, in relation to which, employers cannot retaliate against the employee. For example, filing a workers’ compensation claim, taking a Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, and requesting accommodations for a documented disability are protected activities. Reporting misconduct and breaches of the law at your workplace is also a protected activity. For example, if your workplace does not comply with workplace safety standards, you should report the violations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). If you have witnessed a crime at your workplace, you should notify law enforcement. If that crime is Medicare or Medicaid fraud or some other criminal offense that involves defrauding federal entities out of money, then the False Claims Act applies, and you have the right to file a qui tam action.
Cooperating with an ongoing investigation is also a protected activity. It is against the law for your employer to retaliate against you (such as by firing you, demoting you, or harassing you) for providing information to investigators in the context of the investigation. When you are answering questions in the context of an official investigation about alleged misconduct in your workplace, you have the right to invoke the Fifth Amendment if you reasonably believe that answering the question truthfully would cause you to receive criminal charges or that your answers could be used against you in a criminal case if one were to ensue.
Do You Need an Employment Lawyer if Your Workplace is Under Investigation?
Hiring a lawyer during an ethics investigation in your workplace is not a legal requirement, but you always have the right to consult a lawyer. You can even meet with a lawyer before the investigation officially begins. This way, you can discuss the best ways to protect yourself from legal liability while still complying with the investigation as the law requires you to do.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, About Workplace Ethics Investigations
The Spokane employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, can help you if your workplace is under investigation. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Spokane, Washington, to set up a consultation.