By most accounts, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has good intentions. This government agency wants to protect certain classes of people from discrimination. In order to better spread its message and outline what discrimination can look, sound and feel like, the EEOC created a ‘guidance’ in 2012 for businesses to follow to help them stay on the right side of the law. Among tips to follow when hiring and firing employees, the ‘guidance’ also cites the classes of people who are most often at the center of EEOC lawsuits:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Gender
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Citizenship
  • Pregnancy
  • Age
  • Sexual Orientation – available in some states
  • Weight – available in some states
  • Marital Status – available in some states

Critics of this ‘guidance,’ however, state that it can be too confusing and, as this insurance company for the healthclub industry points out, has allowed the EEOC to attack companies in a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ manner. In other words, they lean heavily toward protecting employees without much regard for employers’ concerns.

What this means is that business owners need to be proactive in protecting themselves from EEOC lawsuits. If you don’t, you could end up paying out thousands – or millions – dollars to disgruntled employees like these companies have to. Here’s five tips to help you get started.

Read Up. Knowledge is power. You need a solid foundation of the EEOC guidance practices and a core understanding of what discrimination is and how companies have previously gotten in trouble because of it. Sometimes a company blatantly knows what its doing and hopes to stay under the radar. Often times though, you simply make a mistake and find yourself stuck in litigation. Instead of relying on your hiring managers, attorneys and background screening agencies to know everything, do the homework yourself and then use these folks as resources to fill in your knowledge gaps. It’s your name on the company masthead, so you better know the name of the game.

Update or Write an Employee Policy Manual. Once you have a good understanding of that stuff, now it’s time to write down your employee policy information in a manual that is available for every employee and applicant to read. In fact, you could create a training protocol where employees are required to read the manual (we’re not saying you have to quiz them on it, but you can). You want the manual to outline what is expected of your employees, transparently disclose your hiring and firing procedures, outline grounds for dismissal and include informative sections on discrimination and harassment and how employees who engage in these practices will be dealt with. This should be a standardized disciplinary policy that does not differ between man or woman, senior advisor or new trainee. The most important thing here is that it’s written down. Date it. Update it. Revisit it annually or bi-annually. Make sure your attorneys read it. Make sure your hiring managers know it inside and out.

Keep an attorney on retainer. If you don’t already have an attorney, get one. These legal eagles aren’t just your muscle if faced with a lawsuit. They are also key team players in writing, drafting and revising any of your written employment documents. Do not proceed to ‘Go’ until your attorney has read all of your documents. Sure, it’s expensive to keep an attorney close, but considering most EEOC lawsuits that end up in arbitration cost employees up to $40,000, it’s a smart investment.

Don’t retaliate. For goodness sake, don’t make it worse than it already is. You should not fire or take action against someone who has made a complaint. Whistleblowers or employees who report illegal or fraudulent activities or safety or environmental concerns, are legally protected under anti-discrimination laws. Remember that attorney you have? Now’s a good time to set up a meeting.

Consider insurance. Some pro-business advocates recommend buying Employment Practices Liability Insurance. This policy – called an EPLI – helps protect you from lawsuits based on harassment, wrongful termination or discrimination. Premiums aren’t cheap but if you feel you need this extra level of protection in our litigious society, then this may be a wise move.

What other tips do you have? Tweet us here… maybe we can use them in an upcoming post.

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