The U.S. EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) reported 89,385 charges of workplace discrimination in 2015. That same year, the agency helped victims recover more than $525 million in damages for both private and public sector workers.
The most common charges of discrimination in 2015, according to the EEOC, were:
- Retaliation (44.5% of cases)
- Race (34.7% of cases)
- Disability (30.2% of cases)
- Sex (29.5% of cases)
- Age (25% of cases)
(Some charges allege multiple bases)
For a small business owner, a single successful discrimination claim can render them bankrupt. But taking steps to minimize the risk of discrimination claims can go a long way in shielding your company’s assets.
1. Develop Sound Company Policies – And Update Them Regularly
Hire a business attorney who has experience drafting discrimination policies to create your company’s discrimination policies and your procedures manual for employees.
The manual should be as comprehensive as possible, and in line with state and federal discrimination laws.
When creating your manual, it’s important to make sure that you clearly define what constitutes as sexual harassment (or any form of discrimination) and the consequences of violating the policy.
Have your attorney review your policies every quarter, and make changes as needed.
2. Review and Explain Discrimination Policies to Managers
Be sure to thoroughly review and explain the company’s discrimination policies to managers so that everyone understands the rules and is on the same page.
Both interviewers and managers should be up to date with discrimination laws, including: Family Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Civil Rights Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Genetic information Nondiscrimination Act and Age Discrimination Act.
Encourage your managers to ask questions, and make sure they sign a form stating that they attended discrimination training and understand the procedures.
3. Establish Criteria for Hiring, Firing and Promoting
Establish detailed, written criteria for hiring, firing and promoting applicants and employees. Have a written plan for evaluation to help ensure you follow the same procedure whenever making major decisions.
The physical written document will serve not only as a guide, but also as justification for your decision should someone question your motives.
Make sure that these protocols are followed every time.
To help minimize conflict and risk, make all hiring decisions based exclusively on the job’s requirements. While this may sound like an obvious piece of advice, small businesses often hire employees for outside reasons, which could lead to a lawsuit in the future.
4. Hold Quarterly Training Programs for Employees
To minimize discrimination between employees, make it a requirement for all employees to review the company’s discrimination policies and procedures manual. Take it one step further by requiring them to attend training on workplace discrimination every quarter.
Just like with managers, have employees sign a form stating that they attended the training and understand it.
5. Take Swift Action
When it comes to harassment claims, taking swift action and intervening immediately can prevent the situation from escalating into a formal claim.
Take steps to resolve the conflict as soon as you become aware of it.
Even if you feel the complaint is ridiculous or trivial, take it seriously and thoroughly investigate the claim. Again, take swift action to resolve the conflict if there is any basis for the employee’s allegation.
While there are many ways to prevent workplace discrimination, the three main areas to focus on are: establishing sound discrimination policies, ensuring employees and managers understand these policies, and training all staff on these matters. If employees and managers understand the rules and the consequences of these rules, it can help curb discrimination and help protect you from a lawsuit.