A deputy sheriff arrives in your lobby with a subpoena to serve one of your employees, or a police officer shows up with an arrest warrant. What do you do? Unfortunately, it’s typically your receptionist, not human resources, who first greets the officer. Having written guidelines to follow is important.
The first questions that often come to mind are, “Are we required to let the officer or agent into our facility?” and “Are we required to comply with the officer or agent’s requests?” The answers depend heavily on the facts of the particular situation, but generally speaking, it’s advisable to cooperate to the extent possible. If the company is uncomfortable with a request—because it seems broader than necessary, may result in disruption of the workplace, or is suspicious—suspend the visit and seek professional advice.
Some general guidelines to consider:
- If the legal agent has no warrant and is seeking basic employee information, depending upon company policy, you could share some basic data. If the agent asks for confidential information, such as medical documents, Social Security number, or date of birth, you should check with legal counsel before complying.
- If the visit is to serve a subpoena in a matter unrelated to the company, you can typically ask the agent to serve the papers during nonwork hours. If you wish, you can verify that the employee works for you and his or her hours of work. Papers served tend to contain bad news and may affect the employee’s productivity. If you elect to allow service of the subpoena, service should take place in a private room. Try to minimize any workplace disruption.
- Sometimes the legal agent may ask for the company’s assistance in an investigation. Review identification and any authorization the representative may possess that gives permission to conduct the investigation. The company’s obligation to assist with the investigation depends on the facts. Sharing surveillance or security film should be reviewed with legal counsel.
When creating guidelines for handling requests from law enforcement, consider:
- One main contact. Designate one main contact to address the visitor immediately. An executive from human resources, security, or other manager would be a good choice. Since these visits can occur at any time, identify back-up contacts and contacts for each work shift.
- Containment. The main contact should try to control the situation as much as possible. For instance, the contact should ensure that the visit doesn’t drag out too long and hence become exacerbated. The contact should accompany the legal agent when he or she is touring the building or while the agent is reviewing any company documents.
- Privacy. Allow for the serving of legal documents, arrests, or investigations to be conducted privately, minimizing or even preventing explosive, confusing, or embarrassing scenes.
- Flexibility. Be prepared for almost anything. Each segment of the law enforcement system may have a different procedure for executing warrants and other activities. Some will notify the employer in advance of their arrival, but many do not. Be cooperative when the officer or agent needs to handle an issue immediately.
- Incorporation. Guidelines for interacting with the legal system should tie in with your company’s emergency plans, such as building evacuations.
Here are some suggested steps when the police or other legal agent arrives at your door:
- The receptionist greets the police officer or legal agent and scans professional identification.
- The main contact greets the agent and confirms the agent’s identity and the reason for the visit.
- If the legal agent needs to see an employee, the main contact can arrange for this to occur in a private office.
- After a visit, the main contact may want to provide employees with reassurance and very limited information as to what transpired. Avoid identifying the employee involved or the nature of the problem. There may be a temptation to say nothing at all to employees, however that may make the situation seem worse than it is, and the rumor mill will take over.
When working with visitors from the legal system, remaining calm and flexible while following these guidelines should result in a positive outcome for the employer and the legal agent.