Key Steps for Avoiding Discrimination Lawsuits

Avoiding discrimination lawsuits is a matter of understanding the key issues and acting to prevent them. A sister publication has provided guidance on both.

This week marks the 65th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack that drew the United States into World War II. It also marks one of the most shameful episodes of that war … herding thousands of Japanese-Americans into what were, essentially, concentration camps, solely because of their ethnic heritage. Recently discovered photos show how bad those camps were. The sight of innocent Americans living in animal stables, guarded by troops, is heartbreaking.

Now, with 9/11, we’ve again experienced a Pearl Harbor-like event that presents a new possibility of discrimination based on race or national origin and now, also religion. But this time, there exists a tight network of laws against it, many of which regulate the workplace.

Recently, our sister BLR publication, HR Manager’s Legal Reporter, ran a feature on key steps to avoid discrimination … and the penalties, legal and human, that it carries. Here’s a summary of the advice offered:

–Understand the Different Kinds of Discrimination: When people think discrimination, it’s usually overt discrimination that comes to mind (“I fired him because I don’t like to work with ______ people.”). But that’s not the only kind.

There’s also stereotyping (“I don’t think _____ people can do this job” or “_____ don’t belong in this job”). There’s patronizing behavior (“he won’t want to relocate–there aren’t enough of his kind here”). Or there’s the practice of playing favorites, such as by promoting those who are all just like you, in race, gender, or ethnic background.

Then there’s reverse discrimination … which is trying not to discriminate against some, but in the process, doing so to others. One example given by HR Manager’s Legal Reporter: firing a white male to retain a black female. Another: rejecting the hiring of a better qualified person in favor of someone from a protected group. In both instances, the person negatively affected was discriminated against.

–Know the Protected Groups: Under federal law, you cannot take employment action of any kind, positive or negative, based on any of these factors:

–Race or National Origin
–Creed or Religion
–Sex or Age
–Marital Status or Pregnancy

State law adds to this list. Various states prohibit discrimination based on: sexual orientation, child-bearing potential, receipt of public assistance, off-duty smoking, and the filing of workers’ compensation claims. Check your state’s law for particulars.

–Know What You Should Do: There are two key steps to preventing discrimination in your workplace, says HR Manager’s Legal Reporter:

  1. Base all employment decisions on business-related factors only. Ask yourself if an objective third party… or an EEOC investigator … would buy into your rationale.
  2. If the individual involved is a member of a protected class, be prepared to demonstrate, if need be, that such status was not the reason for the decision. Be sure you’ve documented the reasons for your action and that those reasons don’t even hint at discrimination.

For more information about, or to subscribe to, HR Manager’s Legal Advisor, click here.

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