How to Stop Discrimination Claims Against Your Company

Julie Shenkman
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As a human resources professional, you must avoid committing employment discrimination when you hire, promote, train and terminate employees. The average verdict in an employment discrimination case is $150,000, according to Workplace Fairness, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting employee rights. Such a verdict damages a company's reputation and may cost you thousands of dollars in legal fees. If you are concerned about discrimination claims, here are several ways to avoid making discriminatory employment decisions.

If an employee reports discriminatory conduct, take the complaint seriously and launch an investigation immediately. Before talking to other employees, ask the complainant to fill out a form or write a narrative describing the discriminatory behavior. At minimum, you should ask the employee to tell you the date and time the incident occurred, the employees involved and the names of any witnesses. Ask the employee to describe the discriminatory conduct in detail. Once you have this information, interview the alleged perpetrator and the witnesses named in the employment discrimination complaint. In some cases, employees may not sue if they feel you took their complaints seriously and conducted a thorough investigation.

Good documentation goes a long way toward preventing discrimination claims. If you make an adverse employment decision against someone in a protected class, you must be able to prove the decision was not made on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, color or disability. Train managers to perform detailed performance reviews and document any work-related problems with each employee. If a terminated employee with a history of absenteeism and low productivity files an employment discrimination claim against your company, use the documentation to show you terminated him because he missed too many days of work and did not perform the essential functions of the job properly.

Age discrimination is another serious concern for employers. One thing you can do to prevent older workers from filing employment discrimination lawsuits is to make sure opportunities are available to all employees, regardless of their ages. If your company plans to offer training to help workers advance their careers, don't limit enrollment to employees under the age of 30. You must also discipline employees fairly. If you plan to discipline a 25-year-old employee for a particular offense, you must also discipline the 60-year-old employee who commits the same offense.

Avoid unintentional discrimination by using screening tools carefully. Several states now prohibit employers from checking credit reports or limit the use of credit information to make hiring decisions. Use screening tools only when it makes sense to do so. If you are hiring a secretary who has no access to petty cash or company bank accounts, there is really no reason to pull a credit report during the hiring process. If you do check an applicant's credit, be sure to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Taking steps to prevent employment discrimination may save your company a lot of money and help you preserve good relations with the community. To prevent claims against your company, treat everyone fairly, and make all employment decisions based on objective criteria rather than an employee's age, gender, personal background or physical characteristics.


Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at



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