Workers in California have rights if they are being investigated in the workplace. Whether you work for a public agency or a private company, or whether or not you are part of a union, your employer must follow company policies and labor laws during the internal investigation process. You have rights regardless of the type of workplace investigation you are facing.
Understanding the Process
The policies and procedures if you are the subject of an internal workplace investigation are typically outlined in your employee handbook. They may also be detailed in your employment contract.
Regardless of where these policies are specified, they must afford you the following rights:
- You have the right to be heard
- Those who make decisions on your case cannot have conflicts of interest with regard to the outcome of the investigation
- You must be given access to the information that is being used against you during the investigation
- You must be protected from all retaliatory action including job termination as long as there is no evidence of wrongdoing against you
- You also have the right to a prompt investigation
- While not all employers may give you the right to legal representation, you may have that right in some cases
What Situations Could Lead to a Workplace Investigation?
There are several scenarios that could trigger a workplace misconduct investigation including allegations of sexual harassment or sexual abuse; claims of discrimination based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, age, disabilities, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, etc.; reports that an employee is creating a hostile work environment for others; allegations of fraud; and allegations that company policy is being violated.
The employer could start an investigation when someone within the company files a complaint about the misconduct or when an employee's supervisor reports them for a workplace violation. There are also situations when a third-party audit or investigation might uncover misconduct or other violations.
What Are Your Legal Rights During a Workplace Investigation?
Under federal and state employment rights, employees have a number of legal rights when they are the targets of a workplace investigation. Your employer:
- Cannot retaliate against you by taking adverse employment action such as a demotion or a pay cut
- Cannot discriminate against you in the workplace
- Cannot harass you
- Cannot terminate you from your job
Employers cannot retaliate against employees who filed a discrimination or harassment claim; or if they reported a violation of the law in the workplace. For example, if you blew the whistle against an employer who is committing fraud, your employer cannot retaliate against you when the investigation is ongoing.
You also have the right to not participate in a workplace investigation unless your employment contract requires you to cooperate in the event of an investigation. If you believe that your employer has violated your rights during a workplace investigation, it would be in your best interest to contact an experienced employment lawyer for more information about your options.
What Your Employers Cannot Do During a Workplace Investigation
There are some actions your employers are prohibited from taking during an employment investigation. One of the most important rights employees have is the right to privacy. When employers violate your right to privacy, you may have the grounds for a lawsuit. Some common examples of violation of privacy include:
Searching your personal phone, computer or property without your authorization
Recording audio or video in the workplace without your knowledge or consent in violation of the state's wiretapping laws
Monitoring your workplace activities in ways that are unlawful and in violation of your employment contract
It is useful to understand that a number of job contracts anticipate such situations and give employers more latitude to monitor employers. Employers may have the authority to monitor your work computer usage and search your belongings in the workplace, under certain circumstances.
For example, employees who work in retail may be subject to a search to make sure they are not leaving the premises with merchandise. But, even in such cases, there may be exceptions. It may be best to reach out to an experienced Los Angeles employment attorney who will be able to offer guidance and support.
How an Employment Lawyer Can Help
Throughout the investigation, your employer may encourage you to speak with your human resources representative about the process. However, if you believe that you are being treated unfairly, discriminated against, harassed or are the target of retaliation, it would be in your best interest to seek legal advice right away.
If you decide to seek the counsel of an employment lawyer, do not speak with human resources or anyone else from your company unless your attorney has had a chance to evaluate your case and offer you guidance about the course of action. Contact the Los Angeles employment lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers to schedule a free, comprehensive and confidential consultation.