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5 things to do today to reduce employment law risks

June 27, 2011

There has been some big news recently in the employment law field.  A quick and non-exhaustive recap:

  • US Supreme Court dismisses Wal-Mart gender discrimination mega-action (but leaves the door open for individual or smaller class actions)
  • A Florida jury awards a deaf manager of 7-Eleven almost $1 million for disability discrimination
  • A federal jury in Illinois awards a female employee of Aaron’s rent-to-own centers $95 million (not a typo) for sexual harassment
  • Best Buy settles a California racial and gender bias class action for $200,000 plus fees of $10 million
  • A Sonic drive-in restaurant chain settles EEOC gender bias charge for $2 million

And more.  There’s always more.

Forewarned is forearmed.  Here are a few antidotes, geared toward the entrepreneurial and small business audience (but equally applicable to all).

  1. Review and if necessary revise your handbook:  If you don’t have an anti-discrimination/harassment policy that (a) covers all protected classes in your jurisdiction; (b) provides multiple avenues for employees to report complaints; and (c) provides for termination of offending employees, you need one ASAP.
  2. Train supervisors on what to look for and what to do if they see it:  Supervisors are your eyes and ears on the ground.  Make sure they know the company policy, the basics of the law, and what to do if they see or hear about problems.  While you’re at it, consider training the employees, too, so you can take advantage of some defenses if you are sued without prior complaint.
  3. Talk to your insurance broker:  Compared to a lawsuit, insurance is dirt cheap.  Get some.
  4. Consider implementing an anti-fraternization policy:  Employees falling in love isn’t a problem.  Employees falling out of love can turn the entire prior relationship into after-the-fact harassment.  A good anti-frat policy at least gives you the chance to take steps to monitor and mitigate the most significant potential damage.
  5. Walk the talk:  Employees know when policies do not match owners’ values.  Make sure your policies are not just words on a page, and make sure your employees know it.  Effective communication in all directions is important here, as is taking prompt action when it is necessary, if inconvenient.

While you can’t prevent a lawsuit, by following these tips you can give yourself the opportunity to fix a problem before it ripens into one.  And almost regardless of the circumstances, that’s a return well worth the investment.


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