EEOC enforcement actions on employment discrimination show how many employers are still stuck in patterns of sex, race and other kinds of bias. Guest poster Jeff Russell, CEO of GeniusHR, offers some ways to break out of these destructive – and legally dangerous — patterns.
As further evidence that our government continues to expand its reach into every business’ operations, recently released EEOC case numbers show 2012 was another big year for EEOC enforcement actions. Filing just shy of 100,000 cases for the third year running, the EEOC continues to aggressively pursue employers for a variety of legal and regulatory violations.
The list of recent EEOC actions highlights the breadth of issues that can get an employer in trouble:
Dillard’s, Inc. – The EEOC settled a disability discrimination lawsuit against Dillard’s, Inc. which claimed that the company forced employees to disclose personal and confidential medical information in order to be approved for health leave, and fired employees with disabilities if they took health leave beyond the maximum amount of time allowed by the company.
Mavis Discount Tire – The EEOC claims that Mavis did not hire women as managers, assistant managers, mechanics, tire installers, and similar jobs because of their sex.
Texas Roadhouse Litigation – The EEOC claims the Texas Roadhouse chain of restaurants did not hire people age 40 and older because of their age.
Bass Pro Litigation – The EEOC claims Bass Pro Outdoor World did not hire people because of their race (African-American or black) or national origin (Hispanic or Latino) and that Bass Pro retaliated against employees who complained about discrimination.
A little sex, a little age, a bit of race and a bit of the stupid (Dillard’s): The list of ways that employers can find themselves in the soup seems endless.
Three ways out of trouble
So what’s a company to do? Here are three quick ways to keep your company out of trouble:
- Don’t be stupid. This seems like such an obvious solution but when you look at cases – like Dillard’s – it seems companies often just do dumb things. Color inside the lines (well inside!) at all times and don’t try to push the envelope. Companies oftentimes become frustrated with the rules they have to follow, but it simply isn’t worth the risk to see how close to the line you can skate.
- Create a set of SIMPLE reports and actually use them. These claims could have readily been avoided with a simple report that looked at key job applicant demographics vs. hiring demographics.
For example, if you notice a trend that you have a mix of 20% white/60% Hispanic/20% black applicants yet your hiring pattern looks like 70% white/20% Hispanic/10% black, you know you could have a serious problem. While there may be legitimate reasons for such disparities, you better have the data to back up your hiring decisions.
- Have good, well-thought-out procedures in place. Bass Pro has a big problem if it can be proven they retaliated against employees who complained. Whether your company is big or small, you should have formal, written policies to handle complaints, etc. and you should ensure that you follow these procedures 100% of the time. Also, if you are a smart company you will always err a bit on the side of the employee.
Being employee-leaning will increase morale and give you a much more defensible place to stand should a claim be made.
It’s easy to become a target of a lawsuit or an enforcement action but it is really not all that difficult to protect yourself should a claim arise. While a few of the cases listed above are still pending, we’re willing to bet that their outcomes will largely hinge on how well the company followed their own procedures, documented what they did and why, and how often they put themselves under a microscope to determine if they had any patterns of discrimination.
Jeff Russell is CEO of GeniusHR, a a Texas-based maker of business process management software for HR.