What rights do I have in an investigation?
The answer to this question depends on whether your employer is a private employer or a public (government) employer and whether you are a member of a union. If you are a union member, you will have additional rights provided by contract, most likely including the right to have a representative attend a meeting between you and management. If you aren’t, and you work for a private company, you probably have fewer rights unless the company has a policy or employee handbook that provides otherwise. In most cases, you will have to participate in the investigation or risk losing your job, even if you were the one who complained about something that initiated the investigation. Government employees have additional rights under the law: for example, they have the right to keep their job and the right to refuse answering incriminating questions pertaining to a crime (but not pertaining to a violation of a work policy, for example).
Should I take documents from my workplace to substantiate my claims?
Probably not. If you do not have the right to access the document and retrieve the document from your employer’s computer systems, you are probably in violation of your employer’s policies and can be subject to termination. The same is true if you print and bring home documents, especially if you are subject to a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement. If you have already taken documents from your workplace, notify your counsel immediately. An alternative approach is to keep a list of the documents that are pertinent to your claim, including their name, author, date, and a description. You can give that list to your lawyer, who can request these documents from your employer during discovery.
If I file a lawsuit, will my employer be entitled to review my personal e-mail accounts, social media accounts, and personal computer?
Most likely, yes, if you used your computer or these accounts to send messages or store information relevant to the claims in the lawsuit. If you delete these files to prevent your employer from seeing them, you could be subject to severe penalties in court, and your employer may even hire a computer forensics expert to recover the information you deleted.
Can my employer search my personal belongings?
The answer to this question depends on whether your employer has told you that you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace or in your personal belongings. If your employer has given you no such notice, you should have a legitimate expectation of privacy in your handbag, briefcase, locker, desk, or car. Many employers have these policies, so be sure to double-check your employee handbook.