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If discrimination has always been a head-in-the-sand issue for you and your organization, it’s time to get serious about your policies and practices.

Discrimination complaints of all types—race, sex, age, etc.—have climbed as steeply in the past year as the economy has fallen.

Employees filed 95,402 job discrimination claims in fiscal year 2008, up a whopping 26% in the past two years. It’s the most claims since the EEOC was established in 1965. Some types of bias—including retaliation and age claims—have jumped nearly 50% since 2006 (see chart below).

Considering that employers face new laws, changed regulations and a continuing economic downturn, it’s safe to say complaints will increase for the near future.

Advice:
Don’t get caught flat-footed. Know exactly how to handle a discrimination claim before one arrives. (See our primer: “How to respond to an EEOC complaint.”)

Remember that your best approach is always to steer clear of the EEOC’s crosshairs in the first place by making sure your workplace is discrimination-free. Six tips:

1. Review your handbook
to make sure it includes a firm policy that forbids discrimination or harassment. Explain the consequences, up to and including termination.

2. Back that policy with regular training
for all employees and supervisors that hammers home your stance against discrimination.

3. Update your policies and procedures to comply with changes in the law. Just this year, the ADA and the FMLA received important revisions, and the Lilly Ledbetter Act erased the statute of limitations on pay discrimination claims, making your organization far more vulnerable to pay-related bias suits.

4. Make sure your performance standards are objective
and interpreted that way by managers. Verify that those standards are being applied evenhandedly so that minorities, women, older workers, the disabled and other protected classes aren’t singled out for punishment of infractions.

5. Document all disciplinary action
to make sure it’s handed out evenly and fairly. Track terminations and layoffs to ensure they don’t fall disproportionately on a protected class.

6. Examine your pre-employment tests,
screening procedures and background checks for bias. It’s a new focus of the EEOC. Audit your tests with a new EEOC fact sheet at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/factemployment_procedures.html.

 

Job bias claims set record

                              Claims    Increase 

Type                     in 2008    from 2006

Race                     33,937    24%

Retaliation           32,690    45%

Sex                        28,372    22%

Age                        24,582    48%

Disability              19,453    25%

National origin    10,601    27%

Religion                 3,273    29%

Equal Pay Act           954    11%

TOTAL                  95,402    26%


Source:
EEOC (total is less than sum because some people charge multiple types of discrimination with each claim).

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