Ask any seasoned HR manager to make a list of the worst things that they could find on their desk on any given day and an EEOC complaint will likely be near the top. Not to be taken lightly, a formal accusation of discrimination is one that must be treated with a great deal of care and concern. Not only should such a complaint cause alarm from a morale and image standpoint, but mishandling an EEOC complaint can take a considerable toll on a company’s budget, time, and overall resources.
With studies indicating that U.S. employers face an 11.7 percent chance of being charged with harassment and/or discrimination, it is clear that EEOC complaints should be taken very seriously not just by the HR department of an organization, but also by upper management. Since the effects of such a complaint can have wide-reaching repercussions, it is necessary to address several steps to improve efficiency in handling one.
Training programs that include EEO laws are vital in limiting workplace environments conducive to discrimination and harassment. A strong EEO policy should include best practices from the EEOC as well as an organization’s own unique policies based upon the specific industry in which it resides.
Not to be limited solely to the human resources department, the knowledge acquired throughout such trainings is essential to employees company-wide. Apply the lessons learned in training HR members to the formal training process for all incoming staff, and arrange a training for all existing employees to be briefed on the updated practices. Setting a solid foundation in this fashion will help to limit future complaints.
Even the very best training programs cannot completely prevent issues from arising. Evaluating the situation is an important step in knowing how to handle EEOC complaints. Should one be brought down upon an organization, the first thing that must be done is to fully investigate the situation.
Any individual that witnessed the incident or is materially involved in any form should be interviewed. This includes managers/supervisors of involved parties to ascertain a history of behavior leading up to the harassment in question, as well as coworkers of the accused party to establish any related red flags or glaring areas of concern.
Examine all documents relevant to the complaint, including the personnel files of the charged and charging parties and their supervisors’ files. Thoroughly look for any past grievances or any other internal complaints filed by or about any of the parties in question.
Evaluating the situation before formally responding to the EEOC will ensure that details of the complaint and what led to it are discovered more quickly and fully. Doing so helps gauge possible liability exposure and can shine a light on whether early mediation may have value.
Being charged by the EEOC does not mean that an organization has been found guilty of discrimination. Instead, it means the Commission has determined that there is a basis for an investigation.
The Society for Human Resource Management provides excellent guidance on working through an EEOC charge. Important steps to take during this stage include looking over all paperwork involved in the charge, noting any deadlines, and going to great lengths to keep all information related to the charge confidential.
Additionally, look to see if a statement of position (the employer’s view of an incident) and a Request for Information (RFI) need to be submitted in the case. If the person who made the complaint is still employed, make sure he/she remains so. There can be no retaliation at all, as making a complaint is not just cause for termination. Lastly, be sure to notify the company’s insurance carrier. Not doing so could be a basis for a denial of coverage later on, and thus becomes a crucial step in how to handle EEOC complaints turned into charges.
If the EEOC’s investigation can’t determine that discrimination took place, it will issue a Dismissal and Notice of Rights to the complainant. This gives notice that the individual has 90 days to file a lawsuit in federal court, and the employer also receives the same notice.
If it is found that discrimination did take place (or there is reasonable cause to believe so), it issues a Letter of Determination to both parties. The Letter asks the employer and complainant to work together with the EEOC to resolve the charge (conciliation).
The EEOC has the authority to enforce violations of its statutes and can do so if attempts at conciliation don’t work. Should the EEOC decide not go to court itself, it will send the complainant a Notice of Right to Sue, which means the individual may file a federal lawsuit within 90 days.
The process of seeing a complaint/charge through to its end entails many more steps than those described above. With the EEOC reporting that it takes an average of 10 months to investigate a charge, it can be overwhelming for an organization to go through the entire process alone or with little guidance. In an effort to lighten this burden, many employers ultimately decide to partner with a Professional Employer Organization with experience in how to handle EEOC complaints and charges.