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Employment Practices: How to Prevent Workplace Discrimination Suits


Employment Practices How to Prevent Workplace Discrimination SuitsEmployment Practices: How to Prevent Workplace Discrimination Suits

In 2012, seven employees out of 15 terminated at a firm in Texas were over the age of 50 and replaced by younger, less experienced workers in some cases. The company claimed this was part of its overall restructuring after a new CEO stepped in. The terminated employees viewed the firing differently, and have a filed an age discrimination case against their employer. All seven had an average tenure at the company of more than 20 years, and according to the lawsuit did not receive any severance payments. The lawsuit also alleges that the seven employees were fired shortly before they would have received their bonuses for 2012. The company told the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that its decision to fire the seven employees was partially driven by a desire for “energetic” reform, which the employees believe supports their claim that it was their age and disability that caused them to lose their jobs, according to the lawsuit. One of the terminated employees is a stroke survivor and walks with a limp. In addition, the lawsuit also cites an instance shortly before the mass firing in which one of the vice presidents “pronounced that people over 50 or that have been with the company more than 10 years are of no value to the company and must go.” Prevent Workplace Discrimination Suits

In another case, the EEOC is suing a Chicago residential house cleaning service for disability discrimination under the American Disability Act (ADA), claiming that it harassed an employee who “walks with an abnormal gait as a result of a stroke.” The president of the company allegedly called the employee a “cripple,” “mockingly imitated the way she walks, and told her that she was being a “’hysterical basket case’” when she complained. He also acknowledged asking the employee, ‘Are you crippled?’

Although we don’t know all the details of these cases except for what is being reported, on face value it seems like these are allegations worthy of pursuit. They also are examples that illustrate the need for strong workplace discrimination practices. The EEOC, as we have reported on numerous occasions, is actively pursing and clamping down on a wide range of employment-related allegations that include ageism and disability discrimination.

To assist your company in preventing workplace discrimination lawsuits, we have put together a list of “to-dos”, courtesy of law firm Fox Rothschild LLP.

1. Know the basics of federal and state anti-discrimination law as well as any laws specific to your city. Familiarize yourself with what a “protected category” is, what you can and cannot ask in an interview, what constitutes harassment, what is retaliation and an “adverse action,” and how to proceed should an employee complain of discrimination.

2. Perform legal and proper due diligence when it comes to hiring. Make sure you are consistent with the anti-discrimination laws, and without any violating laws, get to know the person you’re hiring.

3. Depending on the size of your firm, hire a knowledgeable and experienced HR person.

4. If you don’t have an HR person in-house, make sure you have someone you can turn to who can identify an employment discrimination issue before it develops or gets worse.

5. Create and maintain an up-to-date employment manual. This should have all of your companies policies and procedures, and it should be kept current to address our ever-changing laws.

6. Employees must clearly understand that you have a zero-tolerance anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy in your company. They must know unequivocally that the policies will be enforced fairly and consistently.

7. Perform periodic training programs for all managers and employees in anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies.

8. Document everything, keeping good and thorough records, especially with regard to employee performance and evaluations, problems and complaints, and any other matters that may be necessary down the road to support disciplinary measures, termination or reductions in force.

9. Make sure all employees know where and who to go to register with a complaint. An aggrieved employee should have recourse if he/she experiences discrimination or feels aggrieved. All employee complaints should be treated seriously and confidentially, and investigated promptly and fairly.

10. Always, be honest, transparent and forthright with employees, and keep them in the know when changes are forthcoming. Maintain a fair and consistent workplace. Employees that are treated fairly and respectfully are less likely to complain or sue.

Last but far from least, be sure you carry Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) in the event of a discrimination suit or other employment-related allegations. EPLI  will respond in the event you are faced with such allegations, providing you with defense coverage and indemnification should you be held liable. At Axis Insurance Services, we specialize in management liability insurance, including EPLI, and would be happy to review your policies and procedures and discuss this important coverage. Just give us a call at: (877) 787-5258.

Sources: Houston Chronicle, Fox Rothschild LLP

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Blogged on: June 10, 2014 by Mike Smith
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