Discrimination is an ugly word and one that has serious repercussions for your business and your reputation as an employer. As a CEO or president, you may not know what's going on all the time in the workplace – your management team, middle management, and supervisors might be a great team but a few may have treated someone unfairly, ergo a notice for an EEOC investigation. Someone did something and you are going to have to face the music. Sad but true. There are also situations where the slight was not intended and was misinterpreted just the same as an act of discrimination. Here’s a true story. A boss told a pregnant employee this: “I know you’re pregnant and incompetent.” The boss actually meant to say, “I know you’re pregnant and incontinent.” The boss was actually commiserating with the pregnant woman for having to go to the bathroom all the time to pee. The pregnant woman sued her boss and the company for discrimination. Wrong choice of words, indeed!
If you are facing such an EEOC investigation, here’s how to prepare for it.
- Familiarize yourself with the merits of the case. According to the EEOC, employers and businesses must not discriminate against: Age, Gender, Religion, Disability, Ethnicity/Race, Country of Origin, Pregnancy, Sexual Harassment, and Acts that can be deemed retaliatory. Add to that, the salary must be commensurate or equal to the work being asked of your employees. If any of these fall into the merits of the case before you, first, you must take serious measures to address this in your workplace so that positive change is felt and second, relate the case to the circumstances surrounding it that prompted your employee to file the complaint.
- Hire a lawyer. The complaint is personal, administrative, legal, and will impact your business so this requires that you hire a lawyer if you still don’t have legal representation at the office.
- Cooperate and be transparent with the EEOC. If the EEOC asks for documents, give it. Documents like payroll, benefits, employment contracts, company handbooks, and other personnel files will be asked for submission and review. The faster you cooperate, the faster it will be to resolve the case.
- Document testimonies from witnesses. Sometimes companies aren’t the big, bad wolf they are made out to be. If you feel that you and your management people are treating your employees fairly and respectfully and your employees are with you on this, invite them to make their testimonies freely and without interference from you. The truth comes out anyway even if anyone tries to hide it. If you have nothing to hide, your employees will rally to your side.
- Prepare a statement of the company’s stand on the case. There are always two sides to a dispute. Aided by your lawyer, prepare a statement about where you stand on the case and how you intend to proceed.
- Never be the aggressor. If you are a company whose success is based on honesty, integrity, and sincerely care for your employees, it will show. Therefore, now is not the time to posture like you’re about to strike down an erring employee with haughtiness and arrogance. Remember, little David slayed the Giant.
If you want to avoid all the publicity that comes with a suit, you can also choose mediation to resolve the case quietly and professionally.