Discrimination Charges Part I: I just received a notice that a charge of discrimination has been filed against my company. What should I do?
First, do not panic. There is nothing you can do to prevent someone from going to an agency to complain about discrimination or retaliation. Good HR practices in handling employee situations should mitigate the risk to a legitimate charge of discrimination, but there is nothing you can do to prevent someone from filing a charge. Understandably though, days do not start out well when they begin with receiving charges of discrimination from a state, local or federal agency. The government happily peppers the media with large dollar figure settlements (for example - the $800,000 settlement this week by one Chicago-based staffing company to resolve class action discrimination charges). However, there is comfort in that when properly defended very few of the charges filed with the government will result in lawsuit. The company's handling of the employee matter that triggered the allegations of discrimination will certainly be a factor in the outcome, but statistically very few charges result in lawsuits brought by either the government or the individual complaining party.
Although many federal agencies have the authority to investigate workplace discrimination charges on the laws they enforce, most charges of discrimination are likely to fall within the realm of the EEOC enforcement (e.g., race, age, harassment, religion, gender, national origin discrimination). Many states have their own comparable human rights laws and agencies to enforce these laws, so enforcement may come from either the EEOC or the state agency on the same type of charge. Not to be left out, many municipalities have their own human rights laws, so enforcement is also possible at the local level. Due to work-share agreements among many of these divisions of government a charge against your company may be investigated by one division on behalf of the other.
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