There is a new ad campaign in Minnesota that is getting plenty of people’s attention.
“It will never happen to me is not an emergency plan.”
Plastered on billboards around the state, it’s an in-your-face reminder that disaster can strike at any time.
If only businesses felt this way about the EEOC they could protect themselves from costly lawsuits and lengthy litigation.
Think it’s an exaggeration?
Here’s a roundup of charges the EEOC has processed in the past four years:
2013 – 93,727 2012 – 99,412 2011 – 99,947 2010 – 99,922
Last year alone, the EEOC collected a record $372.1 million in relief for victims of job discrimination. They accomplished all that even while furloughing workers for 40 hours, freezing hiring and slashing its overall budget. To put it bluntly, if you think the EEOC won’t notice your discriminatory transgressions, you better think twice.
In this webinar provided to the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA), an international organization representing companies who launder things like uniforms, linens, and floor mats, an attorney familiar with EEOC investigations says the federal agency is highly aggressive and gets a good return on investment since it operates under ‘systematic enforcement’ where it looks for cases where a large number of employees are receiving the same type of discriminatory treatment.
New lawsuits and updates on ongoing cases are readily available at EEOC.gov:
Princeton Healthcare Pays $1.35 Million to Settle Disability Discrimination Suit
Charlotte Security Provider to Pay $155,000 to Settle Same-Sex Sexual Harassment Suit
Rizza Cadillac to Pay $100K to Three Arab Muslim Employees
Bobby Dodd Institute Pays $40,000 to Settle Age Discrimination Suit
The internet though, in all its useless knowledge gloriousness, has actually come through with some top tips on how to protect yourself from an EEOC lawsuit.
Establish clear, standard and written policies on hiring, firing and discipline. Even if you don’t have an HR department, ensure you have written job descriptions with detailed responsibilities and performance and behavior expectations. Communicate how you enforce those requirements. Follow through. If discipline is in order, it must follow the procedures outlined in your written policies and be standardized for every employee.
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. In most cases, they are legally protected under anti-discrimination laws. There are loopholes but you better have an attorney do a thorough review before you even attempt such a thing.
Investigate internal complaints. If an employee comes forward claiming he or she was harassed, take it seriously. Be prompt in your investigation. You should have procedures outlined in your policy manual on how to handle complaints that fall under anti-discrimination laws. Follow them. Ignoring the issue will only add fuel to the fire should a lawsuit eventually be filed. As this blog post from Asset Protection Planners, Inc. states, “When you investigate and document findings you significantly reduce the risk of a terminated employee having a legitimate case.”
WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. Without a paper trail you risk he said/she said or I said/you said battles. These are annoying and time wasters. Plus, written records offer you tons of protection.
Have an attorney you trust. Even if you’re a small business without in-house counsel, you should have a trusted lawyer, preferably someone who knows a thing or two about EEO law, at your disposal. And don’t be afraid to use them. The money you’d pay them to review your discipline policies or advise on a complaint is likely peanuts to what you’d pay if you were sued by the EEOC.
Finally, be honest. This legal blog has put together an outstanding list of the ‘Notorious Nine Mistakes By Employers In Dealing With the EEOC. If you read all the way through, you’ll find this cautionary tale: “Don’t try to avoid liability by claiming that a termination for cause was a “job elimination.” My mentor has a great old story about trying an age discrimination case (he was representing the plaintiff) in which the employer claimed “job elimination.” The only problem was, the plaintiff whose job was eliminated was the president of the company. Uh . . . yeah.”
What are some of your tips? Send them to us and it just might inspire another post!
Now it’s time to go pack our emergency preparedness bag. It is hurricane season in Florida after all….