Be Prepared to Deal with an Increase in EEOC Charges
By Sonal Shah, JD, Senior Employment Law Counsel
Published May 16, 2017
Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) launched a new system that allows individuals in five cities (including Chicago), who believe they have been discriminated against, to submit online inquiries and online requests for intake interviews. The purpose of this system is to “make the EEOC much more accessible to the public.” While it is not yet clear whether this has or will result in additional charges being filed, it is likely that by making the system more accessible and charges easier to file, the number of charges will increase substantially.
What should you do in case you are the recipient of one of these charges?
- Take it seriously. The EEOC almost never sends a charge to the registered agent of a company, so the charge could end up on a receptionist’s desk or at your local office. Make sure these individuals know to take the charge seriously and immediately notify the appropriate person. Whatever you do, don’t think you can simply ignore the charge and it will go away. Make sure you respond in a timely fashion. The EEOC’s Chicago office states that it does not offer extensions to file a response. I cannot tell you the number of times I have received a frantic call from an organization who received a charge and then forgot about it until the last minute. Make sure that is not you.
- Contact your insurance company. If your organization has Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI), the costs for responding to the charge may be covered or go towards your deductible. However, this will only be true if you notify your carrier, and costs are typically only covered from the date you notify them.
- Contact your employment attorney. Although an attorney is not required to respond to a charge, it is certainly considered the best practice. A good employment attorney who is familiar with applicable law and agency processes can ensure you put yourself in the best position to fight and win the charge. Failure to do so could lead to costly litigation and legal liability. Many times, I have reviewed a company’s response to a charge and found it does not adequately address all the issues, resulting in risk to the organization.
- Gather relevant information/documents. Receiving a charge triggers a “litigation hold.” Essentially, you are required to preserve all documents (paper documents, emails, texts, social media posts, etc.) that may be relevant to the dispute. Consult with your IT person to ensure this happens ASAP.
- Decide whether to mediate. If you think there is any risk that the organization did not handle things properly or if you just want the matter over with as quickly as possible (and are willing to pay to have that happen), consider mediation. The EEOC has a free mediation program that often results in resolution of the charge before costs and hostilities get out of control.
Receiving a charge is something all employers hope they can avoid. However, when that is not the case, understanding the first steps that need to be taken can help ease the stress. Have questions or need assistance with a charge? Reach out to one of our experienced employment attorneys! Contact us at 800-448-4584 or firstname.lastname@example.org.