The day starts like any other day. You get in early, earlier than most of your employees. Your work has barely started, though, when you get an unexpected visitor. Two agents in dark suits. Then two more, and a couple of officers in uniform. It seems like a dozen before they finish coming in. And they say they have a search warrant.
Governmental scrutiny of business activity has never been more intense, and the number of criminal laws that govern businesses has never been greater. Some businesses, like health care providers and banks, are regulated by multiple state and federal agencies. Companies that provide services to government agencies could see a contract dispute turn into allegations about false claims or false statements to the government. Any business with employees is subject to being accused of immigration law violations. Along with increased legal obligations has come increased enforcement of them, and law enforcement agencies are more and more using “blue collar” techniques to investigate white collar crime.
So what do you do when law enforcement agents execute a search warrant at your business or work site? Although every situation is different, here are some “dos” and “don’ts” that apply in every case:
- Do: Develop a Plan. A good business plans for every important contingency, and a visit from law enforcement is certainly one that is important to develop a plan and educate your workers on it. Your managers should know whom to call, what to tell the agents executing the warrant, and how to deal with customers, vendors, and employees during the process. The details of the plan will differ depending on your type of business.
- Don’t: Panic. This may not be good for your business, but it does not have to fatal. It is critical to address the legal issues, as well as the public relations issues, right away.
- Do: Understand Your Rights. The agents executing the warrants will be more concerned with getting information than with informing you or your employees about their rights, or with protecting your business’s reputation. Although agents may have the right to detain employees for a brief period to ensure they do not interfere with the investigation, they do not have the right to compel them to stay at the business or to answer questions. You and your employees have a number of rights in this situation, including the right to see the warrant, to get a list of the items taken, to decline to be interviewed, and to call an attorney for advice.
- Don’t: Make Things Worse. A search warrant may be issued only if a judge or magistrate believes the area searched contains evidence of a crime. That’s a bad enough situation, but you can easily make it worse. Instruct your employees not to do anything to destroy documents or electronic files, or to make the agents believe the employees have done so. Don’t argue with the agents or obstruct the search in any way.
- Do: Call Your Lawyer. The most important thing to do is call a lawyer experienced in white collar criminal defense. He or she can handle the communication with the agents, ensure that the records taken are properly documented, and help decide whether employees will be interviewed. You don’t need to make these decisions by yourself, especially in a stressful situation.
Following these suggestions will not eliminate the risk of a search warrant, but they may help you manage it better.Back to news