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Patrick, Esq.
Patrick, Esq., Lawyer
Category: California Employment Law
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Experience:  Significant experience in all areas of employment law.
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My wife works for a privately owned restraunt and bakery, she

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My wife works for a privately owned restraunt and bakery, she managesthe bakery. Yesterday, the owner called each employee in seperately to meet with a man claiming to be a privae investigator and left him alone with the employee one by one. He started the conversation by telling my wife that he was giving her the oppertunity to get up and walk away as a voluntary termination or stay and answer questions. She has nothing to hide so she wanted to keep her employment and stayed. He then warned her that he had enough evidence to have her arrested at that moment and asked her what the worst thing she had ever done was. She was shocked and could not answer. He then told her he had secret shoppers over the last several monts and asked her if she always rang up everything she sold suggesting sweethearting. He told her he had proof items werent being rung up and asked her if she was not ringing up items. My wfe was taken off guard by the line of questions and the "Investigator" wrote down that she may have not rang something up but did not have knowledge of the incident. Nothing happened during or so far after the meeting, but she is understandably upset and feels threatened. In the State of California, if the employer states that they have proof of wrongdoing and there is none or it is a hoax, is that legal to claim?
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: California Employment Law
Expert:  Patrick, Esq. replied 5 years ago.
Hello and thank you for entrusting me to answer your question. I am so sorry to hear about your wife's experience and can certainly understand why she feels threatened and as though this investigation is improper.

Although I sympathize with her situation, I must regrettably tell you that what you have described is typically not illegal. Employers are afforded a very wide degree of lattitude to investigate employee misconduct, allege misconduct, and monitor their employees via secret shoppers. This tremendous freedom stems from Labor Code section 2922, which provides that employment in the state of California is "at will," absent an agreement to the contrary. Courts have interpreted this to mean that, since an employer retains discretion to terminate employees for no reason, he or she also retains the authority to impose any job restrictions or conduct any kind of investigation that is not otherwise in violation of stte or federal law.

While it would be illegal to make a baseless police report, it is not illegal to accuse someone of wrongful activity in a private setting, even without a substantial basis for such accusation.

Since employment in the state of California is "at will," there is not much that an individual in your wife's situation can do, aside from attempt to clarify any misstatements she may have made during her conversation with the private investigator.

Keep in mind that even if terminated for alleged misconduct, this will only bar an individual from collecting unemployment benefits if the EDD agrees with the employer's finding that misconduct occurred. So, while an employer is free to terminate an employer with no legitimate basis to believe that misconduct occurred, the EDD will only deny unemployment benefits if it finds based upon actual evidence that misconduct occurred.

I realize that this is a small condolence, but I hope that you appreciate knowing this fact and your wife's rights in this instance, even though those rights are not as substantial as you were likely hoping.

I sincerely XXXXX XXXXX this information helps you and I wish you the best.

My greatest concern is that you are satisfied with the answer I provide, so please do not hesitate to contact me with follow-up questions. Although I cannot always provide good news, I hope that my answer gives you a better understanding of the law and your rights so that you can obtain the best possible result under the circumstances. Also, please bear in mind that experts are not credited for unaccepted answers, so I greatly appreciate you taking the time to "accept" my answer and leave positive feedback.

Finally, none of the above constitutes legal advice nor is any attorney client relationship created between us.
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