Sunday, January 6, 2013

California State Employee Investigative Interview Tips

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Get A Lawyer
The number one advice I can give to state employees who are being interviewed for possible disciplinary action is to obtain a lawyer. I have seen far too many cases where an unrepresented employee goes into an interview only to find out it is more of an interrogation than an interview. These employees are asked leading questions and asked to admit to seemingly innocent things. Then they are served with terminations and find that the key evidence in the adverse action packet is their own words.
State employees generally have the right to have a representative present during any interview or meeting that may lead to disciplinary action. The representative may be anyone, including a union representative or lawyer. While you may certainly use a union representative, you should consider whether they will be a strong advocate for you.

Hiring a lawyer may sound expensive, but it is actually much more affordable than people think. Especially considering that you may lose your job if you don't have good representation. In addition, many attorneys offer a free consultation so there is no reason not to at least call an attorney for advice.

Know Your Rights (And Exercise Them!)
Ideally, an interviewer or interrogator will schedule you for an interview and you will have time to seek representation. If you are scheduled for an interview, call an attorney immediately. However, this is not always the case and I have seen situations where employees are called into an interview out of the blue without warning. This can happen when the interviewer is the employee's supervisor or manager. Be very wary of these situations.

Ask if the interview could lead to adverse or disciplinary action. If they say "no," make sure it is recorded on tape, make a note of it, and request that the interviewer sign a statement to this effect. If they answer "yes" or just tell you up front that the interview may lead to discipline, stop the interview and demand that the interview be rescheduled so that you may obtain representation. Most agencies and departments will readily agree to this demand rather than risk losing the adverse action.

Sometimes, at the beginning of an interview, the interviewer may not believe there will be any disciplinary action. But if during the course of the interview, it appears that it may lead to disciplinary action you should immediately stop the interview and demand that it be rescheduled so that you may obtain representation. Hopefully, the interview will stop the interview and advise you of your rights, but you can't count on this.
An interrogation is stressful. It can be one of the most stressful things you ever endure. Investigators rely on this to get interviewees to admit to things that they wouldn't normally or things that may not even be entirely true or accurate. This is especially true if your department hires outside investigators to conduct interviews. An investigators job is to make a case against you. While we would like to believe that an investigator is neutral, they most often are not and this is not a gamble you want to take with your job and your livelihood. An attorney can help you understand the questions, help spot trick questions or leading questions, consult with you, request breaks on your behalf, and make sure your rights are not violated.

Too often I get calls from employees that have already been interviewed and served with an adverse action. At this point, all an attorney can do is minimize the damage when it could all have been prevented in the first place. The Skelly Hearing and State Personnel Board Appeal is not the place to make your case. It starts with the investigative interview or interrogation.

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