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If you witness wrongdoing at work, do you have to testify?

There are times when something happens at work and all anybody wants to do is to stay as far removed from the whole mess and hope it goes away.

Unfortunately, if you're a witness to some sort of misconduct that ends up in litigation, you can end up being called on to testify. Depending on who engaged in the misconduct and who calls on you, you may be asked to testify against a current or former co-worker (who may also be a friend) or against your employer. Neither may sound like a comfortable situation—but do you have any choice?

Probably not. If you're called on in a case by your employer to testify in a hearing before a disciplinary committee or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to determine if there was a valid, non-discriminatory reason for disciplining or firing an employee, you have an obligation to assist your employer in the effective running of the business.

If you refuse, you could be justifiably charged with insubordination and disciplined or fired yourself. That could leave you in a position that you can't easily overcome because the employer would be justified.

If another employee calls on you to testify and you're not in a court setting, you may not be legally required to testify—but that may just be delaying the inevitable. Consider this; if the employee loses his or her case outside of the court only because you don't testify, the next step will probably be to take the litigation into the courtroom where you'll be summoned through a subpoena.

Once that happens, there are very few legal justifications that will stop the court from forcing you to testify.

Your best option if either side calls you is to testify to what you saw or know as truthfully as possible to the best of your recollection. If your employer takes issue with your testimony and discharges you in retaliation on some pretext that you know is a smokescreen for their anger, you may have to contact an attorney for yourself about a wrongful termination claim.

Source: FindLaw, "May the Court Force Me to Testify?," accessed Feb. 17, 2017

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