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Unlicensed Workplace Investigators in California

The rise in the number of workplace investigators has been a noticeable trend in the private detective industry. This is in keeping with the rise in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s record number of charges filed in the 2010 fiscal year*. The EEOC in 2010 charged nearly 100,000 employers in cases ranging from retaliation to discrimination. It may be due in part to the perceived or predicted violence due to layoffs or workplace stress from recessionary adjustments. If you research, you will find an abundance of workplace investigators advertising their services.

In California, to conduct or even advertise services as a workplace investigator, you need to be a licensed private investigator or an attorney legally representing the employer. Through the past two years some have skirted these laws by calling themselves human resource consultants. Whatever they call themselves, they cannot legally advertise or conduct private investigations unless they are a licensed investigator or attorney representing the employer. Most of these laws are covered under the Private Investigators Act, better known as the Business and Professions Code Section 7520 through 7539.

If an individual or company conducts an investigation without a license all of their evidence could be inadmissible in court and they could be charged with a crime. This is what happened to Edward Joseph Ortega, 40, of Ridgecrest who allegedly acted as a private investigator when he interviewed Hawthorne employees last year. He has pleaded not guilty at a Los Angeles County Courthouse to three counts of perjury, one count of false impersonation and one misdemeanor count of illegally working as a private investigator. Ortega was not a licensed private investigator during the time he was conducting the investigation.

The California Association of Licensed Investigators (CALI) has recorded and referred an undisclosed number of unlicensed workplace investigators to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS). CALI says the amount has been increasing steadily and is thought in part to be lack of education. Most of these unlicensed investigators simply do not know they need to be licensed. Often many of the unlicensed investigators are seasoned and knowledgeable human resource professionals. BSIS, which is an arm of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, regulates private investigators in the state of California. BSIS representatives agree with CALI that most of these unlicensed investigators simply do not know they needed to be licensed. If the investigation is not conducted correctly there may be serious legal repercussions for both the employer and the investigator. BSIS has been combating unlicensed investigators aggressively and will refer cases to local district attorneys for prosecution. Most recently, BSIS has adapted regulations to issue citations to these unlicensed investigators.

Workplace investigations is a specialized area of investigation. These investigations are usually complex and require the investigator to have a thorough understanding of current discrimination, harassment, and retaliation laws. If you are conducting a workplace investigation and are not a licensed private investigator or attorney legally representing the employer you are likely conducting an illegal investigation. To learn more about obtaining your private investigator license and the laws that regulate private investigation, contact the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.

*Published EEOC Charge Statistic FY2010

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.