Discrimination lawsuits by employees are on the rise. Under federal and state law, certain groups of people cannot be discriminated against in the workplace on the basis of certain characteristics. Those characteristics include race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and disability. However, every day in the U.S. employers discriminate against employees or potential employees illegally.
In many cases, the employer may not realize the discrimination is occurring, or does not realize it is illegal. It is vital that employers take steps to protect themselves from employment discrimination lawsuits. Discrimination lawsuits can be expensive to defend against, can cause negative publicity for the company, and can hurt employee morale.
The best thing an employer can do to help prevent employer discrimination lawsuits is to hire extremely competent employees in the human resources department. A knowledgeable and experienced HR representative will know which practices are illegal and which are allowable. He or she will know how to comply with federal, state and local employment laws, and can help train employees on how to prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace. If your company is too small to justify an HR department, you should consider consulting on a regular basis with a knowledgeable professional who can help keep an eye on potential problems before they start.
However, do not turn all of the responsibility for preventing discrimination over to an HR person. The employer and managers should be familiar with federal and state discrimination laws, and the protected employment categories. They should also know what to do initially if an employee complains of harassment or discrimination.
Employees should also be informed about the consequences of discrimination and harassment, and what their legal options are if it occurs. This can be contained in a handbook that the employee is given and signs in the workplace. The handbook should contain procedures for reporting discrimination and harassment. The handbook should be updated frequently and the provisions in it should be enforced.
Employees and managers should be given regular training on discrimination and harassment, and how to identify and prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring. They should also be informed about what to do if they see it occurring, and should feel comfortable enough to approach a manager or the employer.
As the employer or the manager, you should always exhibit fairness and respect towards employees. Employees will take their cues about what behavior is acceptable from their bosses. Keep the lines of communication open between management and employees – this can help to prevent any problems before they occur.
It’s also critical to keep good records of the hiring process, employee evaluations, what occurs when a problem or a complaint arises, and anything else that may be relevant later. For example, if an employee claims he or she was fired because of his or her national origin, you will be able to instead point to a history of being late and delivering sub-par work.
Finally, be very careful of who you hire. Do a thorough investigation of each employee before he or she is hired. Do not violate his or her legal rights when doing the investigation, but it could be important to know, for example, if he or she had a history of filing frivolous discrimination cases.
At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty and Seth I. Rosenberg believe that it’s critical for employers to take steps to help prevent discrimination lawsuits, including informing themselves about the relevant discrimination and harassment laws. If you are an employer and you wish to learn more about your legal obligations, call the Oakland and San Francisco employment discrimination attorneys at Liberty Law at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. We work with clients throughout the Bay area, and can help you with your legal needs as well. Call today to learn more or to schedule a free consultation.