Over the last couple weeks, we have looked at the Iowa Civil Rights Commission procedure for employers when current or former employees allege discrimination in the workplace.
We covered the details of the initial complaint and possible outcomes in the initial determination.
There are a few things important for employers to consider as they respond to an ICRC complaint: handling of documentation and your responsibilities to protect the complainant and any other employees who support the complaint.
Special Documentation Considerations
Documentation provided to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission is not normally provided to the opposing party unless a right-to-sue letter has been received. Once a right-to-sue letter is requested, either party can obtain a copy of the entirety of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission file by request. There is a cost for obtaining such a file.
During the Iowa Civil Rights Commission process itself, however, very limited documentation is available to either party. You, as the employer will need to assess what, if any, data protections are necessary for this documentation. There may be documents requested that are trade secrets and cannot be provided without special protections from the Commission. This is extremely common when patient or other healthcare data is requested which might implicate HIPAA or similar privacy rules. In an instance where there is private data, there will need to be a discussion with the Commission on how best to protect that data through the Commission process, as most Commission documentation is subject to open records law request.
Also note that many personnel files contain significant protected data including social security numbers, insurance numbers, checks, bank account numbers, and similar items which will need to be redacted prior to production to the Commission.
Once you have received a complaint anti-retaliation becomes extremely important. If the employee is still employed with you it is very important that you monitor employee progress and do not single that employee out for additional scrutiny or place barriers in his/her path. Failure to do this is likely to resurface as a secondary complaint alleging retaliation in the workplace.
Another area where retaliation becomes very important is when employees maintain friendships within the company and you know that those employees are providing documentation to the Commission or otherwise supporting the employee’s concerns. This frequently comes to light when you manage a job service action and a co-employee shows up to support the person who has been terminated. Those employees have the same rights as the Complainant in terms of anti-retaliation. You must be careful to avoid over-scrutinizing, disciplining, or otherwise interfering with standard employment practices.
Once you receive an Iowa Civil Rights Commission complaint, it’s not always clear on how to proceed or what exactly will happen. When in doubt, contact your employment lawyer.
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