Take Steps to Prevent Workplace Bias Claims Before They Happen

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently reported that work-related bias complaints increased to 75,768 during 2006 compared with 75,428 the previous year. Discrimination complaints had previously risen to a seven-year high of 84,442 in 2002, but then steadily decreased from 2003 to 2005. The most frequent complaints have remained consistent throughout the years, including allegations of discrimination based on race, sex or retaliation.

This upward trend in the number of suits filed should raise alarms for employers everywhere. The legal cost to defend an allegation of discrimination that reaches trial has been estimated between $75,000 and $200,000. This doesn't include hidden costs like work time lost because of gathering evidence or giving depositions. It also doesn't include costs associated with an appeal or with payment of a final judgment.

The National Center for Preventive Law (NCPL) at the California Western School of Law in San Diego recommends that employers practice what it refers to as "preventive law." That means assessing legal risks and instituting solutions to prevent them from occurring.

To assist employers in creating an effective prevention program, NCPL has established the following guidelines:

·            Manage Compliance - Develop a corporate policy regarding discrimination and document in the employee handbook. Document the specific ways in which corporate policy enforces compliance. Maintain a record keeping system that indicates what actions were taken if policies were violated.

·            Contain Risk - Identify overt employee conduct that could lead to a lawsuit. Also look for less obvious misconduct that encourages or promotes discrimination.

·            Respond to Change - Maintain the longevity and continuity of your policies by including mechanisms that allow for necessary updates caused by new business activities or other organizational developments.

·            State Compliance Policy - Take every opportunity to restate corporate compliance policies, including such practices as having department managers discuss them during departmental meetings or by distributing fliers that remind employees about these policies.

·            Top Level Endorsement - Provide continuing opportunities for senior management to oversee and promote corporate compliance policies.

·            Create Compliance Accountability - Hold all staff members accountable for compliance in every activity they initiate or oversee.

·            Ensure Program Fairness - Be sure practices treat all employees fairly and guard against retaliation for raising compliance issues.

·            Maintain High-Level Oversight - Establish a Compliance Officer who has the authority to initiate, coordinate and review corporate compliance efforts.

·            Reward Success - Promote continued compliance through rewards such as monetary compensation.

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