Our readership includes thousands of smaller organizations, in which one or a few individuals are responsible for all forms of legal compliance and for training others to operate within the law. Some of that involves safety, but there are other risks, too. Our Safety Training Tips columnist discusses one of them today: discrimination.
Discriminatory employment practices are illegal and unfair. Both federal and state fair employment laws make it illegal to discriminate when you hire, fire, promote, discipline, or provide benefits or privileges to employees. These laws say that you can’t base any employment decision on anything other than individual qualifications and abilities. Nor may you apply different standards—nor apply standards differently—to different individuals.
Specific legal protections target different types of discrimination. Federal and state laws protect job candidates and employees against discrimination based on:
Age—Individuals can’t be rejected for jobs, fired, or denied promotions just because they are 40 years of age or older.
Gender—You can’t treat men and women differently in employment decisions, deny women opportunities because of pregnancy or childbirth, or pay one gender more than the other for doing work that requires equal skill, effort, and ability.
Race, color, religion, or national origin—Employment decisions can’t be based on any of these personal characteristics.
Disability—Qualified individuals can’t be denied employment opportunities because of a disability (physical or mental), and you must make reasonable accommodation for disabilities when requested if it doesn’t impose an undue hardship on the organization. As long as they can do the essential functions of a job, they must get an equal chance at the job
The same laws that prohibit sex discrimination also prohibit sexual harassment. Sexual demands by supervisors or managers can’t be a condition of employment or other job decisions. You can’t allow any employee to make unwelcome sexual advances toward another employee, nor can you allow a hostile work environment in which employees are debased by verbal, visual, or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment based on race, color, religion, or national origin is also prohibited by state and federal fair employment laws.
Supervisors and managers must be careful to avoid discrimination in daily activities and decisions. Train your supervisors and managers to be aware of any personal biases they may have and to consider all employment decisions from the viewpoint of an objective observer. In addition, teach them to:
Use objective, job-related criteria for all employment decisions.
Focus on performance, not personalities.
Avoid making assumptions about an individual’s abilities, interests, and so on based on age, sex, or other factors unrelated to qualifications and performance.
Refrain from playing favorites.
Ask only appropriate, nondiscriminatory questions when interviewing job candidates
Ask the same questions of all candidates for the same job.
Offer men and women equal pay for jobs that involve the same or equal work.
Provide qualified people with disabilities with the same opportunities as other employees, and make reasonable accommodations when requested.
Why It Matters…
Employees who feel they have been discriminated against can file complaints and even take your organization to court.
Discrimination lawsuits are often long, very costly, and damaging to the organization’s public image.
Discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional to land you in court. Even practices that just have a disproportionate impact against protected groups can serve as the basis for a successful lawsuit.
When employees join together in class action lawsuits, the cost of employment discrimination can rise into the millions.
Employment discrimination is 100 percent preventable—if you are vigilant, enforce policies, and take immediate action to correct any potentially discriminatory activity anywhere in your organization.