When it comes to employment discrimination lawsuits, the outcome is always the same. The business loses. Take this example to heart.
A well-known restaurant chain makes the nightly news in cities across the country. They’re being sued by a group of female employees, claiming sexual harassment from upper management has been an ongoing issue for years. Despite attempts to address the problem within each establishment, employees who complained were let go. The national attention immediately led to low sales, social media backlash, and boycotts.
Is the restaurant chain guilty? Unfortunately, when it comes to reputation and brand, it doesn’t matter. The damage has been done, whether the lawsuit has merit or not. Don’t assume that because you’re a smaller business you won’t have to worry about a national story damaging your reputation. In most cases, the damage is worse in smaller businesses. The loss of company morale and the distraction from business as usual can cause irreversible damage.
Welcome to the fourth installment of my EPL course. I’ll be providing you with my top tips to prevent discrimination lawsuits from happening in the first place so you never have to face public backlash.
Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late
84,254 workplace discrimination charges were filed during the fiscal year 2017. While I don’t know the story of every claim, I think it’s safe to say that many of the involved companies waited until the lawsuit was presented to them to really think about how to protect themselves from such an ordeal.
Having EPL insurance is the first step. You’ll have coverage from employees alleging discrimination, wrongful termination, harassment, and other employment-related issues. But as already mentioned, the damage to your business’ reputation could already be done.
That’s why the best way to protect yourself from discrimination lawsuits is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Here are some of my favorite prevention tips.
6 Tips to Avoid Discrimination Lawsuits
Write an Employee Handbook
If you don’t have a handbook, work on putting one together immediately. A handbook lays out all of your company’s policies and procedures. Should an employee have a question about what to expect regarding pay raises, paid time off, or benefits, they’ll have something professional to refer to.
All new hires should receive a handbook and should then sign paperwork stating that they did receive the document and have no questions regarding its contents. Of course, make sure you either have an HR department or Professional Employer Organization on hand for employees to go to with questions or concerns.
Provide Education Training sessions
Recently, New York City became the first city to pass legislation that directly addresses sexual harassment. Part of the legislation requires businesses to conduct annual training to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
Whether you’re required to or not, annual educational training sessions can help prevent discrimination. While there are plenty of discrimination suits that were intentional, some are simply caused by cultural ignorance. Help your employees embrace their diversity with training.
Know Your Requirements
What are you required to provide for pregnant employees or returning mothers? How long can an employee take time off to care for an ill family member? What stipulations demand equal pay? Not knowing the answers to any of these questions can put you at a higher risk for a discrimination lawsuit.
Take the time to research your requirements as a business. You may have to put up posters, conduct training sessions, or provide preventative paperwork for employees. At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility as a business owner to make sure you’re up to date on legislation, protocol, and requirements.
Be an Example
If you’re the boss, hanging out in your office all day isn’t doing much to boost morale. Take the time to get to know employees. If you have less than a hundred, you should be on a first name basis with them all. If you have a whole bunch more, make sure you greet everyone with a smile.
Do what you can to provide a positive work environment. This could be as simple as installing a new coffee machine in the break room to offering quarterly picnics for employees and their families. Overall, lead by example. As the boss, you shouldn’t be telling inappropriate jokes or ignoring any signs of discrimination or harassment.
You never know who’s listening or who’s talking within your business. Never let one employee off with a warning for the same transgression another employee was punished for. Don’t allow an employee to have an extra vacation day without offering the same opportunity to other employees.
Whenever you do something for an employee, be it negative or positive, the same action needs to be taken for the same incidents with other employees. Don’t brush something under the rug or make deals to prevent conflict in the moment. If word gets out, you’ll have a lawsuit at your door.
When in Doubt, Work With a Professional
The previous tips seem small at first but are just the tip of the EPL iceberg. At the end of the day, there’s a ton of information to take in and even more tasks to complete. Unless you’re an EPL expert, hiring help is the smart thing to do.
Have your handbook reviewed by a lawyer (in some states, handbooks are considered contracts and admissible in court). Need help evaluating your work environment? Hire a consulting agency to come in and tell you where you stand. You can never take too many precautions when preventing lawsuits.
Of those 84,254 workplace discrimination charges in 2017, $398 million was secured in payments for victims. The statistics can’t tell you if your business will face a discrimination charge and if so, what the outcome will be. But they should open your eyes to the frequency and cost of such claims, many of which could have been prevented with proper education, training, and a few extra preventative measures.
Don’t become a statistic. Stay tuned for my final post in my EPL course, which will serve as a final wrap-up and give you any other information you need to protect your business and future.
Part 4: 6 Important Steps to Avoid Discrimination Lawsuits