Discrimination and Harassment

Discrimination and harassment claims often increase in a down economy. Learn the proper techniques for conducing proper workplace harassment investigations, providing sexual harassment training, and more to reduce claims of employment discrimination and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sometimes, all it takes to stop sexual harassment (or behavior that could escalate to harassment) is to tell the individual to cut it out. But you’ll never know if it worked unless you follow up. You should periodically check back with those affected and note their response in your files.

Some employees think that throwing around a few unfounded allegations makes them whistle-blowers. They assume that by reporting what they think is illegal activity, they gain job protection. That’s not always true. If the alleged misconduct isn’t reported in good faith, there’s no protection.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent retaliation lawsuits is to follow up with the employee who complained. Remind her that you won’t tolerate retaliation, and be sure to check back at least once following the investigation.
Employers sometimes assume that because a case is in arbitration, they don’t have to take the case as seriously as they would during courtroom proceedings. That can be a big mistake.

Not all discrimination cases are created equal. For example, race discrimination is prohibited by two laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a much older statute called Section 1981. Enacted following the Civil War, Section 1981 bans discrimination based on race in contracting. It gives employees claiming race discrimination one more way to sue.

Most religious discrimination lawsuits involve allegations of subtle mistakes—e.g., a manager didn’t understand that an em­­ployee had a legitimate need for religious accommodation. But there was nothing subtle about the allegations in a re­­­­cently settled case in­­volving Cincinnati-based Convergys Corp.
Winona-based Hal Leonard Publishing Co. has settled a sexual harassment class action suit with the EEOC. The music publisher will pay $150,000 to a class of women who claim they had to endure unwanted grabbing, squeezing and sexual innuendo.
The key to preventing most har­­assment lawsuits lies in properly handling the situation when you first learn of a problem. A quick and effective response that stops the hostility right away is essential.

Sexual harassment victims deserve to have their claims investigated, not ignored. Under no circumstances should you encourage a complaining employee to quit instead of having to endure continued harassment. That’s a sure indication to many juries that the worker was punished for reporting sexual harassment.

If you pay women and men different rates for the doing the same work, you had better have a good reason—one that can stand up in court. Otherwise, you’ll probably wind up on the losing end of an Equal Pay Act (EPA) lawsuit.