Did you know?
- Race and sexual harassment are the most prevalent forms of workplace discrimination according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- Only 23% of small businesses provide employment discrimination training and/or sexual harassment training (Survey by Chubb Group of Insurance Companies).
- Sexual harassment and wrongful termination awards can cost a company anywhere from $10,000-$50,000 in addition to the legal fees that can cost upwards of $100,000 (Selfgrowth)
- In the state of Tennessee, there were 3,221 charges filed with the EEOC for workplace discrimination and retaliation in 2014. (EEOC)
One discrimination lawsuit could destroy a small business and that is why it is so important to understand the laws governing workplace harassment and retaliation. Many of the federal laws apply to employers that have 15 employees or more. However, even for smaller employers, understanding the laws and acting in good faith sets your growing business up for success.
Many employers don’t set out to discriminate intentionally. They might ask a seemingly ‘innocent’ question in an interview which then changes their hiring decision and thus opens them up for a discrimination lawsuit.
Two simple examples of discrimination/harassment:
- A manager is interviewing for an open engineering position. The male applicant that is the most qualified candidate informs them that he has a disabled child at home and he is currently a single father. The manager decides it is best to go with the 2nd best candidate.
- A male supervisor asks a female employee out on a date. The female employee declines the invitation. The supervisor reacts by firing the female employee a week later.
These types of decisions are made all the time. As a business owner, you are responsible for the actions of your management team. Even if you were not informed about the situation, your company can still be held liable for their actions or inaction. You are responsible for creating a safe place to work for your employees.
Here are a few ways to create a safe environment for your team:
- Create and distribute a Harassment/Discrimination Policy to all your employees.
- Proactively train your managers and employees on harassment in the workplace and what is and is not acceptable on a regular basis.
- Create a culture that is inclusive and celebrates diversity in the workplace (race, sex, religion, age, disability, etc).
- Implement a reporting system (with an anonymous component) that employees can easily use with no fear of retaliation.
- Act quickly when issues arise and conduct fair investigations (internal or 3rd party).
- Conduct Interviewer Training for your managers on what they can and cannot ask.
An environment that feeds on harassing and discriminating behavior can quickly get your company into hot water legally. However, the impact these unaddressed behaviors have on your workforce can lead to mistrust, lower morale, and lower productivity.
As an HR consultant, I encourage all business owners to put a plan in place to address these behaviors and create a safe and equitable working environment for everyone. If employees know that their company has a harassment and discrimination policy in place, required training on a regular basis, and publicized avenues on how to raise a concern, they will be more willing to talk about their concerns…so I encourage you to take that first step!
Your local Chattanooga Human Resources Consultant