Last week we reviewed the importance of the initial handling of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint. As we discussed, no matter how well you bulletproof your employment practices, complaints will arise and how you conduct the initial investigation can help determine the outcome of the case.First, acknowledge receipt of the complaint. If the EEOC complaint is your first notice, respond to them in writing acknowledging receipt of the complaint. Tell them you are conducting an investigation, and will strive to meet all deadlines. Also, the EEOC may want to visit your site as part of their investigation. Some investigators will give notice prior to their visit; others will not. You can request in writing that EEOC personnel notify you prior to their visit “to minimize business interruptions,” according to Byrnes; however, they do not have to comply with your request. Once you elect who will conduct the investigation, he or she should begin by reviewing the personnel policies that relate to the complaint. For example, if an employee alleges gender-based bias, begin by reading any documents your organization disseminated regarding discrimination. Don’t limit this to policies; review complaint procedures, internal e-mails that might relate, and any other organizational trail that can be reasonably tied to the complaint.
Notify the accused employee of the allegations, the potential disciplinary action involved if the complaint is upheld and warn the accused against any acts of retaliation. When interviewing all employees involved in the complaint, whether witnesses or those actively involved, do not promise confidentiality. “Nip any expectation of confidentiality in the bud,” Love said. Many lawsuits arise out of an organization’s failure to take action because employees want to keep their complaints confidential. Assure employees that you will share any facts they provide only with those who need to know; however, you cannot assure confidentiality. Explain that you will probably share some information with the subject of the complaint, potential witnesses, and managers involved in the process. Remind all parties of their obligation to cooperate with any workplace investigation, to keep the investigation details confidential, and to refrain from any retaliatory action.Witnesses must be reassured that their cooperation is vital and appreciated, and their hesitancy addressed. Part of the underlying investigation is to rule out underlying biases or motivations of the witnesses involved, so you must determine how closely they are linked to either sides of the complaint. Next, we will review the questions to ask in the investigatory process.