Has your employer initiated a workplace investigation because of complaints that you made? Or because of complaints that were made about you? If so, then you may be interviewed, and this interview can have important ramifications for your employment at the company going forward. There are typically two types of workplace investigations:
Many times, companies hire outside or external workplace investigators for allegations of misconduct that they interpret to be more serious, or a bigger potential liability. Several NBA teams have hired outside workplace investigators in recent years due to allegations of a hostile work environment. “Hostile work environment” is a term that can set off an alarm within a workplace and may be accompanied by threats of litigation. Although this term was previously only used to describe sexual harassment in the workplace, it has become a word that gets thrown around a lot when an employee is referring to someone they are not getting along with.
Workplace investigations, both internal and external, are becoming more common and are used by companies, sports teams, government entities, schools, etc. to investigate allegations of misconduct fairly and impartially. A workplace investigator will usually interview several employees concerning allegations and get their opinions and observations concerning events that took place. After taking several interviews and looking at the facts and opinions regarding the allegations, the investigator will typically make a finding as to whether there was inappropriate or unprofessional conduct on the part of the employee accused, and if the conduct crossed the line into unlawful conduct like sexual harassment or discrimination.
From there, employers may use these findings to make disciplinary decisions. They may also decide that disciplinary action is not required, depending on the investigation report. When employers are armed with findings from an internal or external investigation, they can do any number of things and are armed with documentation for their acts or omissions.
If you lodged a complaint, and believe you are the reason that your employer is initiating a workplace investigation, you may want to have an attorney present when the workplace investigator interviews you. You may also just want to speak with an attorney who can advise you on how to protect yourself. Investigators, whether internal or external, are supposed to make impartial and unbiased findings. However, this may not always happen. It can be crucial to have attorney representation whether you lodged the complaint or were the subject of a complaint.
If you intend to remain employed and want to maintain an amicable relationship with your employer—you will likely need to participate in the investigation if requested. This can be stressful and concerning as you may feel that your job could be on the line. Of course, honestly is always the best policy. But there are several ways to ensure you put your best foot forward in these interviews.
San Francisco employment law attorney Melody Rissell Leonard has experience representing employees in workplace investigations and may be able to help you. In some circumstances, Melody can assist you on a contingency fee basis. The sooner you contact an attorney in these cases, the better.