Everyone loves lists. Although not everything is reducible to a simple list, nonetheless lists are reader aids and checklists — they are usually short and easy to read and digest, and, perhaps more importantly, easy to cut out and paste on the refrigerator (or lunchroom bulletin board).
Here is the first five of our list of ten tips to lower your risk of being sued for employment discrimination. We may decide to add more tips, which will lengthen the list. (Is a list with 15 or 20 tips useful?).
1. Know the rudiments of anti-discrimination law, both federal law and the laws of your jurisdiction (which can be significantly different). You do not need to be a lawyer (or even play one on TV), but at least be familiar with what a “protected category” is, what you can and cannot ask in a hiring interview, what constitutes workplace harassment, what retaliation and “adverse action” mean, and what steps to take if an employee complains of discrimination. And keep your employment attorney’s number handy, for these are only a few examples of what your organization needs to know.
2. Make it known to your employees that you have a zero-tolerance anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy in your company, which you will enforce fairly and consistently. And be serious about it. Such dictates from above are very important when it comes to this.
3. If you are a big enough company, hire a knowledgeable and experienced HR person, or general counsel, and don’t be stingy. You know — an ounce of prevention …
4. If you are a small company and cannot afford or justify hiring such an in-house person, make sure that you have someone you can turn to who can identify an employment discrimination issue before it develops or gets worse, be it an attorney, or even an outside vendor who works with employers and knows the terrain. Better still – take some courses or seminars on this subject (they are given by lawyers and HR folks all the time) so you will know what to do before a problem develops.
5. Draft and maintain an up-to-date employment manual which incorporates all of your company’s policies and procedures. Keep it current to stay abreast of the ever-changing law. This is especially important if your company has locations in more than one state. Always include your carefully written zero-tolerance anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, as well as a provision which gives aggrieved employees an avenue to make an appropriate complaint if they experience discrimination, and lets them know that they can expect a prompt and even-handed company investigation and response.
The next five tips next time!