No one enjoys having accusations leveled against them. However, if you’re being accused of something at work, the situation becomes even more complex. After all, every workplace handles accusations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior in their own way, and workers may be subject to investigations, suspensions, and even loss of employment.
If you’re being accused of a workplace violation, it’s important to know that offices don’t conduct investigations in the same way that law enforcement does. Depending on the nature of the crime in question, your employer could even turn evidence against you over to law enforcement. Still, there are steps you can take to protect your career and your professional reputation. This article will help you to learn what your rights are during a workplace investigation and discover the steps to take in and out of the office.
Know Your Rights
Employees don’t have the same rights in the workplace that citizens do in society. However, there are federal laws on the books to protect workers from mistreatment. For example, companies must pay workers a minimum wage and adhere to certain OSHA-established safety standards. Additionally, the law protects workers from sexual harassment and other inappropriate treatment in the office.
Employees should be aware that the government generally does not protect them from engaging in workplace investigations. If your employer believes you violated a particular rule or policy, they can generally compel you to take part in an investigation. Failing to participate in the investigation or answer direct questions can result in you being dismissed from your position. Note that retaliation laws do protect whistleblowers and those workers who feel that their employers are engaged in lawful practices.
It’s also worth noting that different laws apply to government employees versus those in the private sector. For example, individuals who work for the government have the right not to be terminated for refusing to answer questions that could cause them to incriminate themselves. Additionally, some workers in unions — such as public school teachers — have the right to a particular type of hearing with representation present.
Although companies have the right to investigate workers, they are legally prohibited from retaliating against those who are found to be innocent of the accusation. If the investigation fails to find evidence of wrongdoing, the employer may not terminate or otherwise discipline the worker in question. If you believe your company is retaliating against you despite a lack of evidence — or if you think you’ve been wrongfully terminated — don’t hesitate to contact an employment lawyer.
Steps to Take When You’re Being Investigated
Employees may not be able to avoid a workplace investigation. However, workers can take steps to safeguard their rights and careers while increasing their odds of coming out ahead. Here are some of JacksonWhite Law’s tips for protecting yourself during an investigation:
1. Collect Information
Workers can’t hope to protect themselves during an investigation if they don’t know what allegations they face. Before sitting down for a workplace investigation, be sure to ask questions about what accusations have been made against you. Request details such as the dates of the alleged incidents and the names of the people involved.
The company may also have to provide you with documents detailing the complaints or accusations. An experienced employment law attorney can advise you about your rights and help you collect the information you need to safeguard your future. They can also let you know whether you have the right to legal representation during the investigation itself.
2. Avoid Criminal Charges
Getting fired from a job you enjoy and value is always devastating. However, facing criminal charges is far more traumatizing and comes with longer-lasting consequences. If the choice is to not cooperate with an investigation and get fired or to cooperate and risk criminal liability, it’s probably better to avoid being investigated and let your company terminate you.
3. Don’t Sign Any Documents
The last thing you want to do during an investigation is take any actions that could jeopardize your case or career. Before signing any documents, make sure you’ve read all the fine print and fully understand what you’re doing. To protect your rights, arrange for a trusted employment law attorney to review documents with you and make sure signing is in your best interest.
Understanding your rights as an employee can be a challenge. After all, different cities, states, and countries have their own regulations, and they don’t always align with one another. Laws affecting the workplace are constantly evolving. At JacksonWhite, our employment law team is constantly educating ourselves on the latest legal developments.
We have experience handling a wide array of labor issues and disputes. Our goal is to protect our clients’ professional lives and reputations while providing cost-effective, compassionate legal services for all their needs.
Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.