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The Anatomy of an EEOC Complaint Pt. 4

Watch any crime show and you’re bound to run across the term “postmortem.” In medical terms, it’s a practice of running through a systematic checklist to determine cause of death. In the business world, it’s easy to perform a similar analysis and there can be great value in determining the cause of the issue in order to prevent future problems. In this wrap up of our series on EEOC claims, we’ll look at how to examine the claim and any lessons learned that might be able to be gleaned from the time and effort invested into the process.

Did You Learn Your Lesson?

Whether the case was determined to have merit or not by the EEOC, the question remains: did you learn anything of value from the process?

Maybe in the discovery process you realized your managers were not collecting adequate data on the performance of their teams to justify raises and bonuses. Or maybe you found out that employees have been practicing some unethical behaviors on the job under the radar. It’s important to keep those items on the back burner while the case is being investigated, but once you can direct attention to those areas, they absolutely must be addressed.

Case in Point: In a claim I was defending several years ago, I realized that our managers had been routinely joking about one of our employees as being “off his meds,” only to find out that the employee was indeed taking medication to help with anxiety and other issues. While this didn’t impact our defense, it easily could have been seen as a more broad issue that warranted deeper examination if the investigator had decided to pursue it. In that case, I decided that our existing discrimination training was inadequate and that our managers needed special support to be able to have an interactive dialogue with workers that might need accommodations under the ADA.

Identifying Warning Signs and Red Flags

Not all red flags will be as obvious as the ones we’ve covered previously. However, when taking an objective look back at the initial complaint, were there any warning signs that were missed in the general busyness of daily work? Was there a complaint made through the company’s internal system? Maybe an ethics report? How about a continued set of declining performance reviews with lengthy employee rebuttals?

While it sounds simple, in reality these kinds of signals are occurring every single day and while one of them might not mean anything, a series of increasingly frustrated interactions can signal a potential complaint in the making. Companies making use of dedicated systems for tracking and responding to employee complaints are more likely to see these trends than those managing the entire process with tools like email and network drives.

Sealing the Gaps

Finally, it’s time to address the insanity. It’s often been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for different results, yet we do this every day in our work lives. It is critical to identify which areas might need additional support to prevent future issues.

  • Is your investigation program meeting the needs of the business?
  • Are you tracking turnover to uncover trending issues?
  • Is your current system and process able to provide clarity into issues before they spin out of control?

It’s all too easy to move on to other pressing items on the agenda after an EEOC claim wraps up. Yet it’s critically important to review and revise existing practices (if necessary) immediately after completing the process while the information is still fresh and relevant. If there’s a systemic issue in your business, the best time to fix it was yesterday — the next best time is today.

Ben Eubanks
Ben Eubanks

Ben Eubanks is the Principal Analyst at Lighthouse Research. He also founded upstartHR.com and hosts We're Only Human, a podcast focused on the intersection of people and technology in the workplace.