Small Businesses and the EEOC: What You Need to Know
Few pieces of mail can strike fear into the heart of an employer like a notice from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The sheer thought that your business could be faced with even the accusation of wrongdoing can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not even clear of what the EEOC is. For starters, what is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which addressed discrimination in employment and other areas. In addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC also enforces the Equal Pay Act, titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act and title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008. Based on the EEOC’s website, “these laws prohibit employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, or in retaliation for opposing job discrimination, filing a charge or participating in proceedings under the laws. EEOC’s mandate is to determine in a fair and objective manner whether the laws it enforces have been violated.”
So, what does all of that mean for your business? That depends.
If your business employs fewer than 20 employees, your business does not fall under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and if your business does not employ 15 or more employees, you are exempt from that and all the other laws enforced by the EEOC except the Equal Pay Act. Keep in mind that does not give you a free pass to discriminate against potential and current employees. If an employee is or feels they have been discriminated against, they may have additional options for filing complaints or even a lawsuit.
Now that we are clear on what the EEOC is and what they do, let’s discuss what you need to look out for. If you receive the dreaded notice that a charge has been filed against your company, carefully review the notice, paying attention to the charging party and the discrimination they claim has taken place. This is the time to begin your internal investigation. Even if you are familiar with the situation, you’ll want to start assembling documentation of the facts in preparation for the next step, submitting your position statement.
The position statement is your official response to the charge filed against you. This sounds like a simple write up, but it is much more than that. It requires details related to your company and its history, along with very specific details of what occurred with the employee. Be careful not to embellish or exaggerate details. Also, be sure to reference and attach all the related documentation in your position statement.
Once your position statement is submitted, there may be an additional request for information. It is in your company’s best interest to respond quickly and provide all requested information. In some situations, an on-site visit may be requested. If this is the case, it is in your best interest to be prepared – having previously submitted documents and any other relevant files and having any employee witnesses available, just in case interviews are requested.
What’s most important to keep in mind if you receive an EEOC charge are to not delay, be as detailed as possible and be patient – in 2015 the average length of an EEOC investigation was 10 months.