Claim Defense and How to Set Yourself Up for Success
You received a letter or email that a claim has been filed against your business by an employee or a former employee – what now?
Don’t panic! Whether this is from the EEOC, DOL, OSHA, the NLRB or some other agency – you will have time and specific instructions to follow. This does not mean that you’ve been found to be negligent or “guilty”. This only means that the agency has had a claim filed and will follow up with additional information.
Before talking to anyone else about the claim, sit down and quietly make notes about the situation referenced in the claim. What do you remember? Who was involved? Making these notes before talking to anyone else is critical, as your memory of the situation could be clouded by others’ recollection.
Do not contact the employee or former employee regarding the claim. If this person is still working for you, you should continue with business as usual, for now. Absolutely do not fire, suspend or otherwise act in a way that could be considered retaliation for them filing the claim.
Contact your employment attorney and Human Resources professional. If you don’t have one or both, it may be time to get them on board. There are many good employment law firms out there. They can help advise you on next steps and give you more information about what to expect. Talk to these people before you take any other steps, including responding to the claim if the notification requires you to do so.
Ask that all emails, texts, notes, and any other documentation about the employee(s) in question be saved and unaltered. Even if that documentation isn’t about the situation referenced, it could become useful. This will also be amongst the first things that an attorney will advise you to do.
After getting advisement from your HR and attorney, you can start an investigation to collect statements from others involved. It will be impossible to do this without them knowing about what you’re investigating, and that’s ok. Ask for their discretion and let them know that you will be asking for the discretion of others involved. If this involves a situation that has already been investigated, gather all appropriate documentation.
Wait for further action from the agency or your attorney. These claims can take a long time, even YEARS, to proceed. At times, the claim is closed, or no further action is necessary after the initial contact.
Even if you just feel funny about a conversation you have had, document it.
It can be intimidating and frustrating to see one of these notices come across your desk. The very best way to be prepared is to be an “over-documenter”. By this, I mean you should take dated notes or send emails to your HR about conversations with employees that are in regard to conflicts, arguments, or complaints in your business. Even if you just feel funny about a conversation you have had, document it. These notes can be your saving grace in a formal claim investigation.