EEOC Claims: Tips to Combat Your Risk
You open the envelope, and your heart immediately drops to the floor. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint is significant. It happens to companies every day, including companies who believe they did everything right and companies who never knew there was a problem. It also happens to companies who were fully aware of the problem but dismissed it as “no big deal.”
Being notified that a complaint has been filed against your business is a moment that an HR Professional or leader will remember forever. I hope you never experience this dreadful situation because the feeling is awful.
Serious Allegations Call for Serious Attention
The EEOC is the organization that enforces laws surrounding discrimination, harassment, etc.
“Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” Any person can file a complaint with the EEOC. It is then the obligation of the EEOC to investigate the claim and determine if an organization is at fault or not for the alleged claim (discrimination, harassment, etc.).
When a discrimination or harassment allegation is made, it is because someone was left with a negative perception of a situation or interaction. As noted previously, complaints are not limited to employees or former employees; applicants can also make them. All allegations must be taken seriously and given priority or the organization could be at fault for not handling the situation appropriately. Conducting a fair and impartial investigation into any allegation is critical to determining a clear path forward.
A Delicate Situation
Ideally, an organization wants to be made aware of concerns when they occur. This allows the organization an opportunity to investigate and address the issues rather than being blindsided by a complaint. To encourage this approach, your organization must create an environment of trust and care. We are talking about highly delicate situations – make sure your HR department has the right person with the right strengths and experience to handle these situations appropriately.
When an inexperienced or uncaring person tries to resolve the matter, it can further compound the situation. The goal should be a mutually agreeable outcome that allows all parties to move forward positively.
The most important steps an organization can take to minimize the number of allegations elevated to the EEOC are education and having and following processes for related concerns. Education is not just one webinar or seminar per year; it’s an ongoing conversation and commitment to providing a fun and safe place to work. Creating a culture of transparency, clear expectations, open communication, and trust will set your organization on the right path. But education can only do so much, which is where the process comes into play—as with many workforce issues, having a process means nothing if it isn’t followed. So it’s incumbent upon HR and leadership to ensure that the process is followed correctly when situations arise.
Join my upcoming webinar, Managing Discrimination Investigations, where I share real-life situations and the lessons learned through those experiences. We’ll also cover best practices and proactive steps that you can take to help avoid or minimize the number of claims filed.