Conflict Resolution, Training

Discrimination at Work: Human Resource Reaction

Employment discrimination in the workplace is on the rise. Discrimination occurs when an employee is treated unfavorably because of his or her race, skin color, national origin, gender, disability, religion, or age. It is illegal to discriminate on anything related to employment. A business must not make assumptions based on race, gender, religion or age, or assume that an employee may be incapable because he or she is disabled. Discrimination can also extend to withholding employment opportunities from an employee because of his or her relationship with someone of a certain race, religion, or ethnicity. Employers are required to inform employees about their rights under EEOC laws, and must include that all employees will be free from retaliation if they file a discrimination complaint.

Human Resources is Challenged as Lawsuits Continue

A company always suffers in an employment related lawsuit. In 2010, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) statistics reveal the highest number of employment discrimination charges in its 45 year history. A slow economy, an increased EEOC enforcement budget, and employee-friendly revisions to laws, will result in a continuation of discrimination lawsuits. Retaliation discrimination is the most frequently cited form of employment discrimination followed closely by race discrimination.

The rising cost of employment related lawsuits is expensive for companies. Settlement costs to resolve a claim can be substantial, but other costs can take a toll on an employer as well. Think about the distraction of company employees for months as documents are gathered and prepared, an internal investigation is conducted, and time is invested in fighting the claim. Employee morale can sink while under the stress of a lawsuit. During this time, an employer’s reputation can become damaged whether found guilty or innocent. Finally, attorney fees can cost as much or more than settlement costs; particularly if the employer is found guilty.

HR Reaction: Eliminate the liability

Those companies who implement strong policies to prevent and address employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation may avoid EEOC charges and lawsuits. In fact, their employment discrimination policies and practices can work in their favor in an employment discrimination lawsuit. If the employer can demonstrate preventative actions, the employer may escape significant damages. Employers are advised to create a workplace culture that discourages employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Here are some steps to follow:

  • Implement a strict policy that makes employment discrimination of any type unacceptable
  • Establish cultural expectations best suited for your company
  • Train your managers in the implementation of the zero tolerance discrimination policy
  • Make your managers responsible for prevention
  • Start mandatory employee training

If you receive a complaint of discrimination, here are some suggested tips for handling:

  • Make sure you investigate it. Don’t assume that it couldn’t possibly be true
  • Become familiar with the law if you are unfamiliar
  • Don’t become angry at the complaining employee
  • Treat the employee making the complaint with respect and compassion
  • Follow the established procedures from your policy
  • Interview all people involved. Take extensive notes
  • Don’t retaliate. It is against the law
  • Keep it confidential
  • Try and determine any corroboration or contradiction
  • Cooperate with the EEOC or other government agencies
  • Consider bringing in outside help
  • Take the appropriate action once all information is gathered

Employment discrimination in the workplace is on the rise. A lackluster economy, increased EEOC enforcement, and employee-friendly revisions to employment laws, is sure to lead to a continuation of expensive discrimination lawsuits. A company always suffers financially and emotionally in an employment related lawsuit. HR’s reaction must be to implement policies and best practices geared towards prevention, and immediate attention and resolution to complaints.

For assistance with any or all of your human resource needs, HR Affiliates provides solutions that fit any company.