Here is a situation every employee dreads: you are wrongfully accused of workplace misconduct such as sexual harassment or discrimination by a subordinate at work and your boss tells you that your job is on the line if you don’t fully cooperate in the company’s investigation. You may feel betrayed, frustrated and unwilling to oblige in an investigation that you feel is unfair and unnecessary. Can your employer really terminate you if you do not cooperate with their investigation? As one California man found out the hard way, the answer is yes.
Decided in 2013, McGrory v. Applied Signal Tech, Inc. dealt with the case of John McGrory who filed a wrongful termination claim against his employer, Signal Tech, for firing him after he refused to cooperate with Signal Tech’s investigation into allegations that he had discriminated against a subordinate because she was a lesbian. McGrory denied the claims against him and cited the employee’s bad performance at work as a reason for the differential treatment. After a full investigation by the company, McGrory was found to be innocent of the discrimination charges but was fired by Signal Tech because of his refusal to cooperate with the investigation. McGrory filed a wrongful termination claim against Signal Tech stating that his refusal to cooperate in the investigation was a protected activity under the FEHA and that Signal Tech’s termination of him was retaliatory.
The court disagreed. The California appellate court held that while terminating an employee for taking part in a protected activity is a form of retaliation that is prohibited by the FEHA, it found that refusal to participate in an employer’s investigation of an employee’s alleged workplace misconduct is not a protected activity. The court stated that an employee accused of workplace misconduct is expected to cooperate fully with an ensuing investigation and can be fired if he or she refuses to do so.
If you are being accused of misconduct at work and are worried about your legal rights when cooperating with an investigation about the claim, it is wise to contact an experienced employment law attorney. An employment law attorney can provide you with the best legal options for protecting your legal rights while cooperating with your company’s investigation.