Business Groups Oppose Ohio Bill Allowing Anonymous Wage Discrimination Complaints


Should employees in Ohio be able to make anonymous complaints about wage discrimination?

Two members of the House believe so, but the lack of details over how such complaints would be handled may doom their current legislation.

House Bill 221 is co-sponsored by Representatives Janine Boyd (D-9) and Erica Crawley (D-26). It requires the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) to set up a system for individuals to make anonymous complaints about wage discrimination. The system would include either a toll-free phone number or a page on the Commission’s website for making the complaint.

It also says the Commission must “shall review all complaints received through this system in a timely manner.”

Currently, Ohio law requires a sworn written statement in order to file a wage discrimination charge. Such charges must be filed within six months of the alleged violation.

The  Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. Central Ohio and the Greater Cleveland Chapters, and the Ohio Poverty Law Center all support the measure. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants (OCRM), and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce oppose it.

But the opposition isn’t to the idea of anonymous complaints, but rather the details of how such complaints will be handled.

The OCRM, in written testimony to the Civil Justice Committee, questioned what “timely manner” means since it isn’t defined in the legislation. Under current law, the OCRC has a year in which to complete an investigation.

The NFIB was concerned about the bill’s requirement to follow up on all anonymous complaints.

“This may lead to former employees of a business or a competitor filing complains that are without merit but must be pursued, costing a small business owner time and money, and diverting OCRC resources away from their current process for evaluating complaints,” the NFIB said in their written testimony.

The Ohio Chamber said the current rules provide an “open process” where an employer is aware of a charge and can respond to it.  It also said the current rule requiring a sworn complaint prevents charges that “have no basis in fact.”

“The bill before the committee does not have these guardrails in place nor does it provide any procedures that would prevent baseless claims from being investigated,” Kevin Shimp, Director of Labor and Legal Affairs for the Chamber, said. “The bill also does not provide any limitations on who can submit the anonymous complaints or on the number of claims one individual can submit. Thus, it is easy to foresee the filing of countless complaints against a business for no other reason except to disrupt the operations of a business.”

Shimp referenced the same process in Rhode Island that supporters of the measure point to.

“A similar reporting system established in Rhode Island resulted in the full investigation of only 1 in every 500 complaints,” he said. “Put another way, that means for every 500 anonymous complaints there were 499 Rhode Island businesses that likely spent time and resources defending their lawful business practices.”

Mary Turocy, OCRC’s Director of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, told the committee that rules would have to be written to implement the anonymous complaint system. Because they are agency rules, they would have public review and a comment process before going into effect.

When similar language was introduced in a prior session, Turocy said the Commission contacted Rhode Island to understand their process. She said they do not launch a full investigation unless the details of the allegation meet certain minimum informational criteria.

She said the Commission would have to create criteria for the minimum amount of information that must be received in order to self-initiate an investigation. If any anonymous complaint didn’t meet that criteria, the Commission might consider it only if there was another formal complaint or pending case.

“As with all evidence, source credibility would be a factor in determining how to use the information,” she explained. “To be clear, should HB 221 pass, OCRC would have no designs to launch a full self-initiated charge and investigation of all anonymous complaints,” she said. “Such a practice could create a means by which OCRC could be used as a tool to harass employers with impunity.”

In questioning, several members of the committee expressed concern about the lack of specifics in the legislation and wondered if the agency rules to be created would be sufficient to gain the support of the Chamber.

“The legislation is broad,” Shimp told the committee. “While we trust the OCRC, we see the legislation before us containing no guardrails that would enable us to have more certainty. We would rather just see the current system stay in place.”

Representative Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-44) wondered if there was no “middle ground” between the current laws and the proposed legislation that would allow for anonymous complaints with certain criteria.

“We see this as a tool that in Rhode island has only led to full investigations – not even determinations, just full investigations – of .002 percent of all complaints received,” Shimp responded. “Going back to what I’ve already said, we would just rather see the current system stay in place.”

Representative Richard Brown (D-20) followed up and asked if the Chamber would reconsider their opposition if a substitute bill containing the specifics and guardrails were introduced.

Shimp said the Chamber is always willing to work with members and would want to be involved in that process. But he said he could only speak to the current bill, which they oppose.

The Ohio Star asked Rep. Boyd if she was planning to make changes to the bill in light of the comments and concerns raised at the hearing, her office responded with an email:

“At this time the Representative does not have public comments about this.”

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Maggie Leigh Thurber is a writer for The Ohio Star. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Ohio House of Representatives Floor” by Joshua Rothaas. CC BY 2.0.






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