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Refusing to participate in workplace investigation justifies termination

In McGrory v. Applied Signal Technology, a California appellate court held that an employer was justified in firing an employee who refused to participate in an investigation of alleged workplace harassment. The long-time employee, who apparently had an excellent work history, was accused of harassing a co-worker on grounds of gender and sexual orientation. The employer then brought in an attorney to investigate the allegations, but the employee was standoffish and refused to answer her questions (and also gave misleading answers). The investigation ironically exonerated the employee of the harassment allegations but the employer fired him anyway for his refusal to be forthright with the investigator. The employee claimed he only refused to provide names of potential witnesses in order to protect their privacy, and that California law protects against retaliation for participation in workplace investigations. But the Court held that employees are only protected against retaliation from participating in formal investigations by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (and/or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), not informal internal investigations. Regarding the employee’s refusal to participate in the investigation, the Court said the refusal “does not shield an employee against termination or lesser discipline for either lying or withholding information during an employer’s internal investigation…” Takeaway? Employees can be punished for being uncooperative or dishonest in internal workplace investigations.