It could be for a police investigation of an employee. Or a federal immigration issue. Or a safety inspection. Whatever it is, taking the right steps can help turn what looks like Big Trouble into No Big Deal.
The thinking is: “It’ll never happen here.” And that’s why so many employers and HR offices get caught by surprise – and make mistakes.
Instead of falling into that pattern, consider the proper steps for responding:
Designate a person who will respond first, and make sure everyone knows who that person is. You could have a situation in which a police officer walks in, flashes a badge and starts questioning a receptionist or other employee.
Imagine the problems that’ll result if that employee blurts out a rumor or something that just isn’t true: “Oh, sure, John. He’s the one who got fired for stealing.”
The response of any employee should be: “You’ll need to talk to our HR manager (or other designated employee) about that.”
Verify the identity of the person who’s making the request. Most government actions are preceded by written correspondence that will give you a heads-up that you’re going to get a visit and questions from a government official. Still, make sure you get ID from the person visiting.
And if the inquiry is in the form of a phone call, ask for the caller’s number, request time to call back and verify the number. Remember that phone inquiries are common ploys used by identity thieves.
Ask if any employees are in danger. You’ll want to know if there’s any risk involved to employees, because failure to take action to protect them could expose your company to a negligence lawsuit by the threatened employee(s).
Prepare a procedure for responding to any requests for documents. Attorneys generally agree that if enforcement personnel show up with a search warrant or subpoena, you’ll have to comply with the terms listed in either. Still, you can monitor any searches accompanied by warrants. Just make sure that monitoring doesn’t take the form of interference, or you could be charged with a crime.
In rare instances, you might get a document request that’s not accompanied by a warrant. You should have an official, unified policy on how you’ll respond to such requests. For instance, you may want to make it standard policy to contact a lawyer before responding.
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