It’s a scary scenario: Someone’s filed a charge of discrimination against your company with the EEOC. What happens now?
The EEOC investigates hundreds of companies a year. Hopefully, you’ll never be one of them. But here’s what you should be ready for just in case.
If an EEOC charge lands in your mailbox, remember this:
No one’s saying you’re guilty yet. The EEOC spends a lot of time assessing a charge. After looking at the initial evidence they get from the claimant, they place a charge into one of three levels:
- Level A: It’s likely that discrimination occurred.
- Level B: It’s not clear, but it’s possible.
- Level C: It doesn’t seem likely at all.
This all happens before the investigation begins, so you have time to:
Opt for mediation. EEOC typically recommends free mediation to category B cases. Mediation is completely voluntary for both parties. And it’s totally separate from the investigatory process. EEOC mediators try to help the two parties work the problem out before they waste a lot of time and money in court.
If mediation isn’t offered, or if it’s rejected or fails, the investigation begins.
Full speed ahead
Here’s your next chance to clear the air:
EEOC will ask you to provide a “position statement,” or a written statement of your version of the story. You’ll need to include supporting documentation. And you should provide statements from relevant employees. Try to be as specific as you can about possible dates, action and location. Tell EEOC if the situation is resolved or if you think it can be easily resolved.
Then, the EEOC will ask for a Request for Information (RFI). At this point, you’ll need to provide copies of the charging party’s personnel files and the files of other relevant employees.
Hint: The RFI is often based on information from your position statement. That means the position statement is a prime opportunity to focus the EEOC’s attention where you want it, to help speed up the investigation.
EEOC then does an on-site visit to interview key personnel.
These may seem like a lot of steps, but the process doesn’t have to be this long. Typically, once a lawyer gets involved, settlement can happen at any point during the investigation.
Otherwise, if the EEOC finds that no discrimination has occurred, they make a determination called, “no reasonable cause.” They issue a right to sue letter, which means the employee exhausted “administrative remedies” and is free to take the matter to court if he or she wishes.
If the EEOC thinks any discrimination might have occurred, the parties go to conciliation in an attempt to negotiate a resolution.
If the conciliation is successful, the charge goes away. If conciliation fails, EEOC will carefully consider whether to bring a suit against you or issue a right to sue letter.
And that’s the end of the investigation process. No one looks forward to an EEOC investigation. But now if one happens to you, you’ll know what to do.