Workplace Investigations

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 What Is Employment Law?

Employment law refers to a broad range of legal issues that are associated with employees, employers, and safety conditions in the workplace. While some employment laws are applied to a case involving employment discrimination, other employment laws provide guidance when creating items such as company policies and employee handbooks.

The general purpose of employment law is to protect all who are part of the American workforce. This includes, but may not be limited to:

  • Establishing legal protection for employees who are involved disputes with a colleague, an employer, or a company;
  • Ensuring that businesses do not discriminate against prospective job candidates, as well as current employees, in the interviewing, hiring, promoting, and/or terminating process;
  • Granting specific legal rights to workers who are self-employed, or who are considered to be independent contractors; and
  • Ensuring that volunteers and interns are legally protected against sexual harassment, discrimination, and/or retaliation in the workplace.

It is important to note that employment laws vary considerably by jurisdiction. What this means is that the employment rights protected by one state may not be protected under the laws of another state. Additionally, some issues are governed by both state and federal employment laws, such as pregnancy leave.

What Are Workplace Investigations?

Workplace investigations can occur when reports have been made regarding some sort of legal violation or crime being committed in the workplace. The two most common examples of such violations would be sexual harassment and embezzlement. Investigations can happen for any number of reasons, and may be performed by various people or entities.

Generally speaking, a workplace investigation is used to determine whether a claim associated with a legal violation is true. Additionally, workplace investigations exist in order to discover important evidence that could be used during trial, or during other legal processes involving the workplace violation.

Workplace investigations may be conducted by any of the following parties:

  • Human resources departments for smaller, internal investigations and issues;
  • The Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”);
  • The Wage and Hour Division (“WHA”);
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”);
  • Police;
  • FBI;
  • Immigration authorities; and
  • Other law enforcement agencies, although workplace investigations that are conducted by these parties are generally reserved for criminal matters.

The person or agency who is conducting the investigation will largely depend on the exact nature and intention of the legal issues involved. Additionally, some investigations could ultimately result in class action lawsuits if the issue is sufficiently widespread.

There are many different reasons as to why workplace investigations may be conducted. In addition to those previously mentioned, some examples of the most common reasons for workplace investigations include:

  • Workplace disputes between employees;
  • Criminal matters, such as accounting fraud and other white collar crimes;
  • Discrimination;
  • Harassment;
  • Wage and hour complaints; and
  • Workers comp issues.

What Are The Consequences Of Workplace Investigations?

Workplace investigations do not always, immediately result in legal consequences. An example of this would be how investigations that are conducted by government agencies, such as the EEOC, could result in requests that the employer change their hiring practices so that they are non-discriminatory. Another example would be how a wage or hour investigation could result in changes made to employment wage policies.

However, it is important to note that other investigations can result in legal remedies, such as damages for lost wages and reinstatement to a previous job after a termination. Additionally, the results obtained from some investigations may be used in private lawsuits for additional damages and remedies. Finally, some criminal investigations may result in criminal penalties, such as fines and incarceration for those found to be guilty.

What Should I Do If I Am Involved In A Workplace Dispute?

If you are involved in a workplace dispute, there are several steps that you can take in order to reach a resolution. You might be advised to contact your local Human Resources representative; however, it can be difficult to approach them if you are handling a dispute with a higher up employee, or with someone who works in the human resources department. If you are unsure of what to do, you should consult a workplace dispute lawyer for guidance.

If you have not already, you should review your employee handbook. Employee handbooks generally provide information regarding the company’s policies and procedures, as well as how they apply to various work-related topics. Some of the most common examples of information that is included in employee handbooks include:

  • Sexual harassment policies;
  • Alcohol and drug use policies;
  • Pay, salaries, and bonus information;
  • Health, medical, sick leave, and post-employment benefits;
  • How and where to file complaints with the company;
  • Attendance policies; and/or
  • Professional behavioral expectations.

The purpose of including policies and procedures within an employee handbook is to protect employees and employers alike. All policies and procedures should be enforced in a consistent manner, and all should be in compliance with local, state, and federal requirements.

Before taking your concerns to your employer, be sure that you review all relevant material associated with the policies and procedures of your company. Additionally, have everything about the situation in writing, prior to voicing your concerns. Summarize the problem, state the facts, and bring your complaint to your employer.

Having a possible solution or outcome in mind can assist in dispute resolution. An example of this would be being moved to a different area of the office, or changing shifts. If you are able to provide a workable solution of your own, instead of just a problem, you have a better chance of quickly resolving the situation.

If at all possible, you should try to reach an agreeable resolution to the problem before the conclusion of the conversation. If you and your employer cannot come to an agreement, you should contact an attorney for further guidance.

What Else Should I Know About Workplace Disputes In General?

To reiterate, workplace disputes involving wages and overtime pay can involve several other legal issues. An example of this would be how a wage garnishment case could be associated with another legal issue, such as child support payments.

If you have a wage and overtime dispute, you may need to file a claim with the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) of the U.S. Department of Labor. If doing so does not remedy your problem, you will need to contact an attorney for assistance.

Additionally, keep in mind that it is against federal law to discriminate against employees based on the following characteristics:

  • Race;
  • National Origin;
  • Sex or gender;
  • Religion;
  • Age;
  • Disability; and/or
  • Medical conditions, such as pregnancy.

These are protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and as such any employment decisions that include termination, hiring, pay, promotions, etc., are prohibited.

It is important to note that the law is not always applied, and small businesses may be excluded from following such laws. However, what constitutes “small” varies from state to state. An example of this would be how California has determined that a small company who is excluded from most employment laws has less than five employees.

Do I Need An Attorney For Workplace Investigations?

Whether you need assistance initiating a workplace investigation, or cooperating with a workplace investigation, an area workplace attorney can provide legal assistance.

An experienced and local lawyer will be best suited to helping you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific employment laws. An attorney will also be able to represent you in court as needed.


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