Employee Training and Discrimination Prevention
So my firm handles the training of employees on how best to avoid issues related to the various state and federal discrimination laws. There are many things that the average employee may not be aware of-which could expose the employer to liability. It is very important that a company and it’s employees understand how sometimes innocent comments could negatively affect the business and subject the business to a discrimination lawsuit.
Lawsuits can be very expensive to defend and the best course of action is to prevent the activity in the first place. Making employees aware of what constitutes a discrimination lawsuit is a good first step. Additionally, by making all employees subject to training and awareness, the company sends a strong message about what conduct is not acceptable. This will also result in a lower rate of employment related lawsuits.
My firm provides written material, actual in-person training and discrimination /training checklists for the employer. This allows the employer to document that training was provided to each employee and that the employee acknowledges the training in writing. This can provide a powerful tool if a discrimination case were to be filed.
I am always surprised at how many companies don’t have a written sexual harassment and discrimination policy in place. The lack of a discrimination policy may be utilized by a plaintiff’s attorney to show the company did not put forth an effort to inform employees about the proper legal conduct required at work. This may be used to show the company was negligent in providing the proper training and oversight.
Some of the remedies available against the company if it were to be sued and have a complain filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights under the Illinois Human Rights Act include:
Lost pay for the employee;
Lost front pay going forward for the employee who quit or was fired;
Lost benefits for the employee;
Attorney fees (which can be very substantial);
Emotional Distress damage;
Loss of state contracts for the company for up to three years;
Negative publicity for the company;
The pile on affect—once one employee files a complaint, others may jump on the wagon.
All of this can be mitigated by properly training the employee, documenting the training and properly supervisor employees. I would say the most common form of discrimination claim is sexual harassment. There are obvious forms of sexual harassment like request for sex in exchange for a good work performance or repeated sexual comments. But there are also less subtle forms of sexual harassment which employees should be trained on. For example, if a male supervisor only asks the female to lunch or the after work emails and calls are only made to the female worker, a pattern of behavior can be demonstrated and used against the company were a claim to arise. By putting checklists in place, the company can provide a mechanism for the employee to report any conduct immediately and minimize any potential exposure for the company.
Another form of training is geared toward the people who hire employees for the company. There are many subtle things, which could expose a company to liability. For example, if a company receives ten applications and reviews the social media of all ten applicants, is this a good idea? It may in fact be a very bad idea. What if after seeing all ten applicants, four are removed from consideration. Perhaps one of the four is gay, and now can make a valid claim that he was removed because once the company went out to his social media website it realized he was gay and he was removed. But in reality, he may have been a weak candidate, but now you are giving him ammunition and will end up defending your company in a discrimination lawsuit. Only a very experienced employment law attorney can provide the proper training to your hiring professionals and guide them through the dos and don’ts.
Don’t leave the training to yourself, and hire a professional to help ensure your workforce is properly trained and you are properly protected.