I am handling a case for a client who had an injury by accident at work recently, and two of his co-workers saw it happen and then came to his aid and helped him. Those two co-workers know he got hurt. But the big corporation that they work for has denied the claim, asserting that my client did not have an injury by accident at work. So far, this is pretty typical. But, there is a twist to this one---
My client gave me the names of the two co-workers, and I asked him to contact them, since he knew them and had worked with them for years, and ask them if they would be willing to speak to me and tell me what they remember about the accident. My client felt sure that both of these co-workers, with whom he had always had good relations, would be willing to talk to me on the phone.
Well, the first co-worker said that before she talked to me, she wanted to run it by the corporation's in-house legal counsel. She did and the in-house lawyer took a statement from her, and then apparently told her that he, the in-house lawyer, would "take it from here" and "not to worry about talking to that other lawyer (in other words, don't talk to Bob Bollinger, who is representing the injured employee!)." So, because this co-worker felt that she had to get permission from their employer to talk to me about a case (she did not have to do that), we now have a situation where a key fact witness has been encouraged, and possibly intimidated, to keep quiet about the important facts that the witness knows, and not share that information with the lawyer representing her friend and co-worker. And I don't have any simple way to find out what she knows, because she will not talk to me now. When I ask the Employer during discovery for a copy of the statement she gave, they are going to refuse to give it to me on the basis that it is protected by a "lawyer work product" privilege. That objection usually means the statement is helpful to my client and therefore they don't want me to have it.
And the other co-worker witness will not even return my client's phone calls and text messages, even though they were reasonably good friends before my client got hurt. I wonder why? The only thing that has changed in their relationship is that my client got hurt at work, and the company has denied the claim...... Go figure.
If I find out for sure that one or both of these co-worker witnesses have been intimidated in some fashion by the Employer, I am going to pursue that line of inquiry as aggressively as I can. It is both unethical and illegal activity, if that is what has happened, and I going to just "bust them" for it.
Unfortunately, I frequently run into co-worker witnesses who have valuable knowledge of the facts, but who refuse to get involved, because they are scared to death that their employer will retaliate against them if they tell the truth or come to court to testify for the injured co-worker. An employer who pressures an employee not to testify, or not to tell the truth, is behaving wrongly. That conduct is unlawful, and it is immoral and unethical, but it apparently happens all the time. I promise you, though, if I obtain clear evidence of it happening, I am going after the individual intimidators in a big way. I am going to make them pay for it!