Q. I own a small medical device company. We are responding to a frivolous charge of discrimination filed by a former employee. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has contacted us to conduct interviews of certain employees. Do I have to make these employees available? Can I ask to participate in the employee interviews? — S.G., Bloomington
A. Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the Department of Human Rights has the authority to investigate charges filed by individuals who believe they have been subjected to unlawful discrimination.
The department’s authority includes the right to subpoena documents and witnesses. Frivolous or not, you would be wise to be cooperative and accommodate the department’s efforts to interview employees about the charge.
Inform nonmanagerial employees that a representative from the department may contact them to ask them questions. Tell them that it is the company’s desire that they cooperate fully and respond truthfully to all questions asked of them. If asked by the department what their employer told them about the interviews, that’s the response you want the department to hear.
Managerial employees are agents of the company. An interview of these individuals is essentially an interview of the company itself, so the department will permit the company’s attorney to be present for these interviews. Weigh the pros and cons of having your counsel participate. Because of concerns over the potential for intimidation and retaliation, the department is unlikely to permit you, the owner of the company, to be present for those interviews.
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