Consider yourself fortunate if you have never had to respond to a charge filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Responding to a claim ties up a significant amount of time and money. The EEOC received more than 67,000 charges in fiscal year 2020, and the agency secured more than $439 million for victims of discrimination. A recent settlement was awarded for $5.5 million. What does this mean for you?
The EEOC and its regulations
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws (20 employees in age discrimination cases). Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered. States may have additional legal requirements. The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.
Of course, the best strategy for responding to a claim is to not get one in the first place. Creating a workplace free from harassment and discrimination is the best way to mitigate potential claims from employees.
What can you do to build an equitable and inclusive workplace?
Building a better workplace that encourages equality and collaboration can be hard work. To get started, assess your policies and practices related to hiring, promotion, training and development, and compensation for equity.
Ensure you design workplace programs that promote connection, inclusion, and belonging. Provide annual harassment prevention and response training to ensure ongoing awareness of the risk of workplace harassment. Support open communication of employee concerns by providing a method of anonymous reporting like OurWorkplace. Finally, empower managers to address workplace concerns.
What if I need to respond to an EEOC claim?
You may need to investigate and provide supporting documentation in your response. Move quickly to assess the charge and develop a plan of action. Consider additional resources that will be required to assist you, such as a third-party consultant, attorney, or your insurance provider.
Determine if mediation is appropriate for your situation. Mediation may be a way to reach a voluntary settlement that resolves the issue.
Enlist the help of third-party consultants and attorneys. A consultant can assist with investigation interviews and prepare supporting documentation. He/she can serve as an extension of your HR department when resources are limited. The consultant can also work directly with your attorney to provide support. An employment law attorney may be necessary to help you navigate the legal process. While corporate general counsel is well-versed in contract and business law, it is usually worthwhile to seek HR-specific legal help for these claims.
Finally, ensure you have Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI). If a charge is filed, contact your carrier as soon as possible. Your specific policy may have requirements related to additional resources available to you and/or what is required in your response process.