The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is the federal agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting claims of discrimination in the workplace. Employees who feel they have been discriminated against have 180 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory act to file a charge with the EEOC. Within 10 days of receiving the charge, the EEOC will give notice to the employer.
As an employer, receiving notice of a charge of discrimination against you can feel like a slap in the face. Perhaps you had no idea the employee experienced discrimination, or maybe you know for a fact that the negative action the employee complains of (often demotion or termination) resulted from the employee’s own misconduct.
Regardless of whether you think the claim is valid, receiving notice from a federal agency can feel terrifying. For small business owners especially, the prospect of a federal investigation and possible lawsuit can threaten the future of your business. You should contact your North Carolina attorney with experience in small business and employee relations for guidance on how to respond to the charge and protect your business.
Do not try to resolve the charge yourself.
For some employers, their first instinct upon receiving notice of a claim of discrimination is to reach out to the employee to see if they can resolve the issue themselves. Particularly if you felt you had a good relationship with the employee or you know the claim arose from a misunderstanding, you may want to handle it yourself. This is almost always a bad idea.
Regardless of your relationship with the employee, any attempt by you to contact the employee could be viewed as harassment. If an employee feels his or her employer has taken negative action in response to an EEOC claim, this could give rise to another claim, this time for retaliation.
Instead of trying to resolve an EEOC claim directly with the employee, focus your energy on your response.
The Process of Handling a Workplace Discrimination Charge
As an employer, you will likely be asked to submit a “position statement,” your response to the charges of discrimination. This statement is your opportunity to present your side of the story.
Working closely with your North Carolina small business attorney, gather information from your managers and other employees to piece together the facts of the incident that gave rise to the claim. You will want to provide as much evidence to defend your business as possible, so search your files, company e-mails, logged instant message or other inter-office communications, and any other documentation to provide the EEOC with the full picture. Your attorney will assist you with the organization and presentation of information.
The EEOC may offer you the opportunity to participate in pre-investigation mediation. Mediation involves working with a neutral third party (the mediator) to settle the employee’s claim. In some cases, your attorney may advise you that mediation is your best option. If you feel that the claim of discrimination has no basis, you may not want to mediate and, instead have the EEOC investigate and see the truth for itself.
The employee’s claim will be assigned to a local investigator. You may not hear from the investigator for weeks or even months. The EEOC investigator may wish to speak with you or other employees of your business and may request the opportunity to visit your workplace. Your North Carolina small business attorney will stand by your side and guide you through this often nerve-wracking process.
If the EEOC has not completed an investigation within 180 days after the employee filed the claim, the employee may request a Notice of Right to Sue (a right to sue letter). If the EEOC conducts the investigation and decides not to prosecute the claim of discrimination, it will issue a right to sue upon making that determination.
While receiving a claim of discrimination from the EEOC may be the last thing you as a small business owner want to do, your North Carolina small business attorney will work with you to navigate the process and help you and your business respond.
If one of your employees has filed a claim with the EEOC, give the experienced attorneys at SeiferFlatow a call at 704-512-0606 as soon as possible to set up a consultation.