When you are being investigated at work, how you should respond depends on why you are invovled. You may be investigated for possible criminal law violations, civil law or company policy violations. While a criminal law violation may result in jail time if you're accused of breaking a company policy you potentially may be disciplined including losing your job.
If it's a potential violation of criminal law you have a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate yourself. You also have a right to an attorney. If what's being investigated involves claims you may have broken criminal laws you should retain a criminal defense attorney and not discuss the matter with your employer. If you don't know of a criminal defense attorney, contact as and we can refer you to one.
If you're being investigated for something like discrimination or sexual harassment it's not a criminal matter (unless the allegations include stalking, threats, physical touching or sexual assault) so you have no Fifth Amendment protections and failing to cooperate with an investigation could also be disciplined, including losing your job. But that doesn't mean you have no options.
Ask what the investigation's about. Ask for some time so you can think about it and look for memos or emails that may be relevant. You probably won't be disciplined for not immediately jumping into an investigation.
Call our office and talk to one of our attorneys. Ask what risks there are to you cooperating and whether you have rights (such as under a contract or state law) to have legal representation.
If it's a possible criminal matter it may be better not to cooperate and be fired than incriminate yourself and possibly face criminal charges (plus get fired).
Ask us about possible traps that could be ahead. Is your employer trying to establish grounds to fire you in response to your own discrimination complaint or because you complained about unethical or illegal acts by your employer? Your employer may be laying the groundwork to defend itself in a future lawsuit you may file against them.
Do not sign anything until you fully understand all of the details of any documents as well as ramifications of your signature. It is best that we sit down to review the documentation before you proceed.
Before there's a meeting with a manager or someone from human resources ask if you can bring a lawyer or a friend. You would like to have someone there in case there's a dispute as to what was said. You could also ask to record the meeting, especially if your employer is recording it so you can have it for your own records.
When the meeting takes place and the company has an attorney present, and your request for an attorney was denied, raise the issue again and ask again to have your own attorney there. Make sure you understand the questions, repeat them back to make sure you do, and answer them. If you made a prior complaint of discrimination or of unethical or illegal acts by the company include that in what you're discussing to make it clear you believe you may be suffering retaliation in response.
If you've done something improper or in violation of company policies or rules and admit it you could be fired immediately. You could also be fired for not cooperating with an investigation, trying to cover it up or lying about it. However, you could hire representation to help you negotiate to save your job and reputation. The choice is yours.