Thursday, March 12, 2015

When the government comes knocking, don’t forget not to retaliate

Last week, I wrote about what to do when OSHA comes knocking. One issue I did not address is the potential for retaliation against employees who provide information to, or otherwise cooperate with, the government.

Thankfully, the Department of Labor, on its own blog, recently provided a not-so-subtle reminder:

Employee cooperation and candor are crucial to these efforts. Just as important, employees who give testimony are protected … from retaliation or discrimination of any kind on account of their cooperation.

Whether it’s the EEOC, the DOL (Wage and Hour or OSHA), or the NLRB, employees not only have the right to file complaints or charges, but they also have the right to provide information to the investigating agency or otherwise cooperate in the investigation. For example, if OSHA is coming into your business, the inspector will almost certainly want to interview some of your employees. If they are non-management employees, you have no right to participate in or observe the interview.

It is critical that both before and after the investigation you communicate to your managers and supervisors that retaliation will not be tolerated. It’s also a good idea to communicate the same to your employees. Having, and documenting, this communication will be your best friend in the event that you have to take a legitimate adverse action against an employee on the heels of his or her participation in a government investigation.