Can you terminate an employee for participating in an internal investigation at your company that is not connected with a formal EEOC proceeding?

Recently, in Townsend v. Benjamin Enterprises, Inc., the Second Circuit joined five other federal appellate courts in answering this question with a “yes.”  The Court held that participation in an internal employer investigation not connected with a formal EEOC proceeding is not protected activity under the participation clause contained in Title VII.  So, an employee participating in an internal investigation is not protected from being terminated in retaliation for such participation.  However, even if such a termination is not unlawful, it is still not a wise or productive decision for any company.
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The California legislature recently passed a bill prohibiting employers – with some specific exceptions – from obtaining and using credit reports to screen candidates and employees. Check out this report at Law360. California becomes not the first, but the sixth state to have passed similar legislation, joining Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Illinois and Maryland. Even more states are considering similar restrictions, and there’s even a proposal before Congress that would do the same thing on a national level. What else? Oh, the EEOC takes the position that the use of credit reports may be biased against minorities and females. Here’s the EEOC’s official take. So, not only may using these reports be unlawful in many states, but you could also face charges of discrimination over the use of credit reports. Finally, don’t forget that the bankruptcy code, which applies nationwide, prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee on the basis of bankruptcy – basically, you can’t fire someone solely because of a bankruptcy, whether your business is a financial institution or not.
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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently approved a new strategic plan for 2012-2016, which is designed to maximize its resources.

The new strategic plan contains two aspects that are of particular interest to HR professionals:

(1)    the EEOC will focus its efforts on systemic discrimination cases rather than individual discrimination cases; and

(2)    the EEOC will focus its education and outreach efforts on small and new businesses.
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