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.

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Q. As a small college, we employ quite a few adjunct in­structors, especially for night classes. They work on a term-to-term contract for specific courses. One instructor got a very poor review and we’d like to ease him out. He’s making noises about age discrimination. If we don’t renew his contract but instead use a younger, fresh-out-of-grad-school instructor, could he have a case?

Move cautiously when dealing with an employee who complains about harassment and discrimination—especially if the complaint involves a supervisor who now wants to terminate him. Unless you have a pre-existing paper trail showing poor performance before the complaint, going back to create one is dangerous.

PROBLEM: A Muslim employee needs an accommodation that will allow him to pray several times during the workday. You determine that allowing him to do so won’t affect the department’s productivity. Not so fast. The rest of the staff starts to complain that it’s not fair that one employee gets extra breaks in the day ...
Dallas-based DHL Global Forwarding has agreed to pay $201,000 to settle charges that it failed to stop super­visors from harassing Hispanic em­­ployees.
The EEOC has begun an effort to protect LGBT workers’ rights by broadly interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC’s newly released Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2013-2016 lists “coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII” as one of its top six national en­­forcement priorities.
Good news for employers worried that a single inflammatory utterance could land them in big legal trouble: Courts generally won’t hold an employer responsible.

When a new supervisor arrives and makes changes, criticizes work performance and otherwise challenges old ways of doing things, thin-skinned employees may complain about working in a hostile environment. But just complaining about workplace unpleasantness doesn’t make a winning lawsuit.

Do you hand out periodic bonuses to employees? If so, be sure you can clearly describe how you calculate bonuses and what em­­ployees need to do to receive one. If you must later terminate an employee—and claim poor performance was the reason—she may point to the bonus as proof you fired her for discriminatory reasons.
Many organizations serve customers who speak a language other than English, and require em­ployees to have specific bilingual skills. If that describes your organization, make sure you can defend the language requirement if you’re sued.

Some employees do well for years, only to have their performance slip. There may come a time when you have to let the employee go. But what about all those glowing evaluations from years past? If you can prove that the employee’s performance has genuinely declined, those earlier evaluations won’t cause any trouble in court.

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