There’s an old myth that sharks require constant forward momentum to live. If they stop, they die. The fact is, only some species of shark need to keep moving. Businesses, on the other hand, absolutely need to keep expanding and keep moving forwards. You don’t want your company slowed down by something avoidable, but every year, companies find themselves in court up against a discrimination lawyer with a solid case.
On the one hand, human beings are inherently unpredictable creatures, and their behaviors are governed by a wide range of factors. When a person is hired, the company is taking a risk with them. On the other hand, there are ways to manage those risks and decrease the likelihood of encountering a problem. Read on for a few tips to reduce the odds of workplace discrimination claims taking place.
- One of the biggest corporate cliches is companies claiming that their biggest asset is their people. In your case, that might be true. If so, your biggest assets among your people are your HR department. Sure, you know about running your business. But they know about proper hiring questions, compliance with local, state, and federal anti-discrimination laws, harassment training, and many other topics. Topics that, if not followed properly, will grind your company to a halt.
- But what if you can’t afford an in-house HR department, or you simply don’t want one? Fine, but if that’s the case, get yourself a trained professional you can turn to in order to help with employee issues. That person might be an attorney or a vendor connected to your industry that gets its particular quirks. By not doing either, you could be setting yourself and your company up for serious problems down the road.
- While you don’t have to be an expert, it’s well worth your time to familiarize yourself with the basics of anti-discrimination laws. That means learning about “protected categories” and what the different kinds are, what harassment specifically means, what can and cannot be asked during an interview, what to do if an employee complains about harassment or discrimination, and laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
- Take the time to put together and regularly update an employee manual. This should clearly lay out all of the policies and procedures utilized by your company, and it should be written in language that’s concise and easy to understand. Distribute a copy to every employee, and have each employee sign that they have read and received the material. Make sure that you, or your HR department, stays current with changes in employment laws, and updates policies accordingly.
- While this might seem obvious, make sure to create a zero tolerance environment towards discrimination and harassment. This needs to be enforced with consistency and fairness. Just as importantly, make sure employees understand the process for reporting a complaint of harassment or discrimination, and what you will do after a complaint is made, like opening an investigation and pursuing remediation. Claims can get very complicated very quickly, which is why straightforward procedures are critically important.