Discrimination in the workplace can take several forms: age, race, religion, health status, sexual orientation and gender. A closer look at recent anti-discrimination lawsuits shows that settlements not only require the payment of hefty fines, but also result in imposition of stringent decrees meant to inhibit discriminatory behavior in the future.
However, companies can prevent employee discrimination by properly training its employees and managers on how to identify, avoid and deal with prejudicial behavior. Part of this process involves maintenance of proper employment records on all employees, both as a legal requirement and also as a way to protect itself during lawsuits.
Importance of Training Employees and Managers
Avoiding Legal Liability
Training employees and managers on appropriate anti-discrimination behavior reduces the chances that the company will be sued and found guilty for discrimination and harassment of its employees. For instance, in the Wells Fargo sexual discrimination case, the company was required to pay $290,000 as fine because the manager required to handle the complaint failed to address the sexual harassment complaint when it was reported to him (EEOC). If the manager involved had proper training on dealing with harassment, the employees guilty of harassing their colleagues would have been personally liable. Consequently, the company would not have been found guilty of allowing harassment and therefore, would not have to pay the fine and adhere to intrusive court-mandated decrees.
Similar demands were made of Royal Tire after the company lost a gender discrimination lawsuit in which it paid a female executive substantially less than her male counterparts, despite constant complaints on the issue. The company was fined $182,500 for wage discrimination based on gender in addition to been required to harmonize the salaries of all employees in similar working conditions having same qualifications (EEOC). Proper knowledge on what constitutes discriminatory behavior on the part of the managers would probably have averted the legal problems. An employment discrimination outline can offer employers a comprehensive guide on whether particular behavior is discriminatory or not.
Cost Saving by Avoiding Fines in Lawsuits
Discrimination lawsuits can be quite expensive. In the last few years, EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and DOL (Department of Labor) have increased anti-harassment and anti-discriminatory laws. Coincidentally, there have been historical highs in the number of lawsuits related to discrimination and harassment. On average, settlements in these cases cost an average of $500,000, not considering the litigation costs that come with each case (Workplace Answers). For instance, DSW Inc. paid $900,000 in an age discrimination lawsuit after been found guilty of illegally firing employees aged over 40 years (EEOC). Furthermore, the company is required to train employees on eradication of age discrimination and revise its anti-discrimination policy.
Importance of Documenting Any and All Employment Decisions
Documenting Employment Decisions – a Legal Obligation
Failure to preserve proper employment records is a federal offence (Gov.bc.ca). Dunkin’ Donuts, which was involved in a religious discrimination lawsuit for retracting a job offer over an employee’s religious affiliation, was also found guilty of failing to maintain proper employment records. This issue points to the potential liabilities that a company can incur from its interactions with non-employees, including job applicants, volunteers and temporary employees. Even though Dunkin’ Donuts retracted the job offer before the successful job applicant could begin working, the company was still required to maintain proper employment records (EEOC).
First Line of Defense in Anti-Harassment/Discrimination Litigation
When an employee sues the employer for tolerating discriminatory behavior, suitable records can help the employer during the lawsuit (Troutman Sanders). For instance, firing an employee can be mistaken for discriminatory behavior, and can result in financial and legal liability if there is no accepted evidence to dispute the claim. In such a case, proper employment records such as employee indiscipline, absenteeism, deficient performance, misconduct, and the reason for loss of employment can help prove to the court that your decisions were justifiable (Davis). For example, in the case against Merry Maids, in which $40,000 was paid as compensation for an employee fired for minor pregnancy-related complications,, the employer would have determined beforehand that the suit would fail, since the termination of employment contradicted the worker’s untainted work record (EEOC).
Handling discrimination and harassment in the workplace is essentially a risk-management task (PERI), considering the serious legal and financial liability an organization can have because of discrimination or harassment. For instance, employees or managers implicated in discriminatory behavior may no longer work at the company, despite being important assets to the company.
Moreover, lawsuits may require heavier monitoring of harassment and discrimination-related issues, which can be an extra burden on the employer. Consequently, to avoid problems arising from discrimination and harassment, a company must ensure that its workforce gets regular training on what constitutes discriminatory behavior and how to deal. Equally important is the need to maintain proper records of all employment decisions.