You can win claims of discrimination. Ken Moulison, President of Moulison North in Biddeford, Maine proved that. When one of his employees complained to him that he was being subjected to racial comments on the job site, Ken immediately addressed the problem. That kind of behavior was not tolerated at Moulison—and Ken had a track record to prove it.
Well before this incident, Ken engaged Dacri & Associates to put in place a comprehensive discrimination and harassment prevention program that included training, polices, a complaint procedure and employee education. Armed with this, Ken knew what to do when faced with an incident. Yet, even though Ken quickly corrected the problem, a fact admitted by the employee, a discrimination suit was still filed.
Unwilling to settle this case to make it go away, Ken won the initial suit and then won the subsequent appeal. Having a strong anti-discrimination program in place—a fact cited by the judge, Ken wanted to send a clear message that his company does not tolerate discrimination in the workplace, nor would he back down to avoid an unwarranted legal fight—a decision Ken believes saved his company $100,000 in settlement and legal fees.
So how can you protect your workforce and company against discrimination, similar to what Moulison did? There are seven key strategies necessary to eliminate claims of discrimination:
- Invest heavily in management training. Train all your managers annually in employment law basics, communication skills, and how to treat employees with respect.
- Review all your employment practices. Focus on hiring, promotion, discipline, layoffs/termination, performance appraisals and documentation. Look for and eliminate systemic practices that could result in discriminatory practices.
- Have a broad anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy. The courts and the EEOC interpret having no policy negatively. Include a complaint procedure, protections again retaliatory actions, language discouraging inappropriate behavior, and communication alerting employees that all employees should file claims promptly, along with clear procedures on how to file a claim.
- Investigate all claims. Whenever an employee makes a complaint, investigate it quickly. Never dismiss a claim without a thorough, impartial review. Keep the alleged victim informed of your actions. And if harassment or discrimination does occur, dish out the appropriate discipline, while protecting the victim and any witnesses from potential retaliation.
- Response mechanism. Train all managers on how to spot discriminatory practices and how to respond to employees who make claims. Eliminating discrimination before it occurs is the key. Properly responding to complaints will mitigate damage and will send a message that you care.
- Create a respectful culture. Organizations that have a culture that is based on respecting all employees rarely have issues or claims of harassment and discrimination. Employees who respect each other don’t harass or discriminate. Be clear that harassment and discrimination will never be tolerated, but if it happens, it will be swiftly and forcefully addressed.
- Follow your state law guidelines. Multi-state employers must know all state laws to ensure compliance.
Claims of discrimination or harassment can happen. But when companies have in place strong proactive programs and when managers know how to handle these situations, claims can be won. And managers can have the peace of mind that they did the right thing.