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For Employers: Avoiding Discrimination Lawsuits Based on Employee (Mis)Behavior

As the owner or manager of small or mid-sized business, you may feel that you have protected your business from the risk of avoidable workplace discrimination lawsuits simply by regulating your behavior and that of your management colleagues. You might keep scrupulous records of performance reviews, warnings to employees, and even base promotion and firing decisions on completely objective criteria like hours worked, total sales or tasks completed. But no matter how carefully you and your management team work to eliminate any actions on your part that could be interpreted as discriminatory, your business remains at risk if you do not manage discriminatory actions or comments by your rank-and-file employees.

If one or several of your employees create a hostile work environment for other workers, you could become financially liable for their discriminatory behavior. What follows are some basic steps you can take to minimize — if not completely eliminate — the risk of workplace discrimination lawsuits.

  • Have a clear, written anti-discrimination policy. Ensure that it is distributed to all employees, preferably on an annual basis. Include examples of discriminatory behavior that you and your management team will not tolerate.
  • Provide an easy, unintimidating method for employees to air grievances or discuss concerns about discriminatory actions or comments by colleagues or superiors, and about unethical or illegal activities in the workplace.
  • Hold regular training and awareness seminars to ensure that everyone understands your anti-discrimination policies and knows how to follow them.
  • If you receive plausible complaints about discriminatory behaviors or comments, investigate, and take action to reprimand or remove the aggressor. An aggrieved employee who feels that his or her employer has heard and understood her complaints and taken action to remedy the situation is much less likely to resort to litigation.
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