Perhaps you were blindsided to receive a notice from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, informing you that one of your employees had filed a formal complaint against you for discrimination. On the other hand, in your dealings with this employee, you may not be surprised that he or she would take this route. Nevertheless, the next few months, or longer, may be challenging for you.
Understanding the role of the EEOC, and the process that takes place following an employee complaint of discrimination, may help you know what to expect and how to proceed. You will want to be certain that you know your rights and responsibilities before you take any steps that may complicate the process.
A tedious but necessary procedure
The role of the EEOC is to investigate and eliminate discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination is unfair treatment based on any of the protected statuses, such as race, religion, age or sex. The agency takes complaints seriously, but they typically handle cases fairly and investigate thoroughly. In fact, at times, the EEOC will determine soon after it receives a complaint that it has no merit. However, in many cases, you can expect the following from a discrimination complaint.
- You should prepare your statement of position, which is a documentation of your version of the circumstances your employee reported.
- You can confer with your attorney about whether it is best to use the EEOC's mediation or settlement programs, which provide alternative dispute resolution options to bring a speedy end to the conflict.
- If mediation or settlement is not appropriate for your situation, you will submit to the EEOC any information it requests, such as personnel files, company policies and other documents.
- An EEOC agent may request an on-site visit to speed up the investigation.
- You may also provide the EEOC with a list of witnesses or others whom the agent may wish to interview.
The EEOC may find no evidence that you discriminated against your employee. However, this may not stop your employee from filing a lawsuit in Florida civil court. If the EEOC determines there is evidence of discrimination, the agency will assist you and your employee in attempting to resolve the matter. Again, however, there is still a chance you will end up in court. A discrimination investigation and lawsuit can place your personal and professional reputation at risk. You would be wise to have strong legal counsel throughout the process.