Workplace discrimination lawsuits are expensive for employers in terms of time, money, and damaged reputation. This is true even when they win. It does not matter if you would never dream of discriminating against an employee, without taking certain legal precautions you are at risk.
Did you know the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommends promoting an inclusive workplace culture that fosters professionalism and respect for personal differences? Establishing neutral and objective criteria along these lines can help defend against subjective discrimination claims, but those criterion may need to be written down and disseminated across your company. Let us share a few more tips for you, as the employer, right here.
1- Create written discrimination, harassment and grievance policies. Employers should expressly prohibit discrimination and harassment as a condition of employment, and provide an administrative process for addressing grievances. The process should include alternative reporting paths for employees who feel vulnerable to retaliation. Issue clear definitions of discrimination and harassment, and ban all related behaviors that may contribute to a hostile or offensive workplace environment. Make it explicitly clear in employee agreements and company handbooks that targeting members of protected classes will not be tolerated.
2- Write down termination policies. Issue written policies outlining disciplinary procedures, including performance and behavioral warnings, firings, and actions that warrant immediate termination. Provide a list of examples, but make sure to note that any list is non-exhaustive. After you create and disseminate an administrative process, make sure to stick to it.
3- Investigate all claims rigorously. Investigate claims as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Employers put themselves at risk when they delay, minimize, or ignore discrimination and harassment complaints. Conversely, employers may put themselves at risk if they fire an accused party without a reasonably fair fact-finding process. Investigate rigorously, but be judicious.
4- Document everything. Keep notes of meetings and interviews throughout an administrative investigation. Write memos to memorialize events and include team members as witnesses, especially during sensitive discussions with those involved. Issue all subsequent warnings and sanctions in writing.
5- Consider putting arbitration clauses in employment contracts. Arbitration is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that occurs outside the courts. Arbitration decisions are legally binding, and proceed faster and may be cheaper than full-blown courtroom litigation.
We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. We encourage you not to wait to schedule a meeting with our experienced employment discrimination team to review your case.