Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia has been dominating the news. What, if anything, can the Russia investigation teach us about employment law? Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses the one clear answer — tell the truth.
The presidency may be a politically elected position, but it is nonetheless a job and the campaign process is like one giant and prolonged job interview. Millions of bosses — voters — use information gathered during the campaign to make an informed decision about who to hire — i.e. elect — as president. Once elected, the president’s acts and performance are not without review. Congress may impeach for “high crimes and misdemeanors” and law enforcement may prosecute where there is evidence of a crime.
In the private sector, employers use the interview process to evaluate candidates for a job. Employers may ask many questions to a candidate during the application process, and employers expect honest and truthful answers to their questions. Businesses make decisions about who to hire after carefully reviewing, among other things, the applicant’s answers to the employer’s questions from the interview process. Although many states are at-will employment states, meaning employees can be hired or fired for any lawful reason, many employers nonetheless will investigate suspicions of employee misconduct before terminating the employee.
The so-called Russia Investigation resembles, in many ways, an employment investigation. Congressional investigation as well as Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation are looking into whether the Trump campaign acted improperly during the campaign. In other words, they are investigating whether President Trump’s team did something improper to get Trump the job of president.
Similarly, in private sector employment, a common problem encountered by employees is getting caught for using improper means to obtain a job. In private employment, this usually means lying on an employment application or on a resume. Sometimes, employees will get a little too creative with a resume and embellish responsibilities held in previous positions. Other times, employees may outright falsify prior jobs.
The most common of these application problems seen by the Long Island employment law firm, Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC, is that employees convicted of crimes will find trouble when completing applications asking for conviction history. Some areas of the country are instituting “ban the box” legislation which prohibits asking about conviction history on applications, and many more prohibit discrimination based on criminal conviction history. But, where the question is permissible, applicants with criminal conviction histories will often omit some convictions or otherwise try to conceal the nature of the history.
If the employer later learns that the employee was not truthful about disclosing a criminal conviction, the employee may lawfully be terminated for lying on the employment application. In other words, even though it may be unlawful to terminate the employee because of the fact that he or she has a particular criminal conviction, if the true reason the employer is terminating the employee is that the employee lied on the application, then there is a legitimate and legal reason to fire the employee. So, the lesson is, like running for president, when applying for any job, the applicant should be as truthful and honest as possible.
If you’re following the Special Counsel’s Russia investigation, then you also probably know that one of the key questions discussed by commentators is whether President Trump will meet with the Special Counsel to answer questions. One of the main reasons that the president likely does not want to speak to the Special Counsel, is that in speaking to him, he may be implicating himself in further misconduct. For example, former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, was interviewed by the FBI and subsequently indicted. Flynn, however, was not indicted for anything which was the subject of the FBI investigation. Rather, Flynn was indicted for allegedly making false statement during the FBI interview. Similarly, President Clinton faced impeachment for, among things, making false statements during a deposition. President Trump may want to avoid the pitfalls found by Flynn and Clinton.
In employment, employers may also conduct investigations which include questioning employees. Sometimes, the interviewed employee will not even know the subject matter of the investigation about which he or she is being interviewed. Like presidents and other high ranking government officials, employees may knowingly or unknowingly provide false statements during an investigation. Although the employee may not have done anything else improper, and if the employee was the subject of the investigation, he or she may even be exonerated for the alleged misconduct which sparked the investigation, but he or she may still face termination for not being truthful to investigators.
In sum, the Russia Investigation teaches us that the most important lesson in employment law is to be truthful. At Famighetti & Weinick PLLC, we spend a lot of time preparing our employment discrimination clients for depositions, trials, hearings, and mediations. Without question, the one point we make clear to our clients is to be truthful. Veering from the truth means only trouble.
If you have questions about the employment law topics discussed in today’s employment law blog about lessons from the Russia Investigation, contact one of our Long Island employment lawyers at 631-352-0050 or on the internet at https://www.linycemploymentlaw.com.