How to be Mindful of Protected Classes in the Workplace

Employment Civil Lawsuits

Today, employment related civil lawsuits account for a quarter of all civil lawsuits. According to HR Specialist: Employment Law, employers lose 60% of these types of cases. With the typical award around $500,000, the company’s bottom line is hit. However, another crucial area that is negatively impacted is the company culture. Who wants to work for or do business with an organization that practices discrimination? Eventually, no one.

The solution: Minimize employment related civil lawsuits by being mindful of protected classes in the workplace.

Protected Classes

Lawsuits filed against businesses by employees are usually based on allegations of wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. From hiring to firing, the way an employer interacts with candidates for hire and employees should not discriminatory of a protected class based upon:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation)
  • National origin
  • Age (40 or older)
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) further extends the protection for people who:

  • Complain about discrimination
  • File a charge of discrimination
  • Participate in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit

Protected classes are also state specific. For example, in the state of Ohio, ancestry is protected, so employers should know specific classes protected in their state.

It is important to note that the organization is not the only one who pays if the discriminatory lawsuit is lost. Specific employees (e.g. managers and supervisors) can be named and forced to pay out of their own pockets.

From Hiring to Firing

It is up the employer and representatives of the employer to be aware of conduct or comments that can be discriminatory toward a protected class. It starts with the interview, continues throughout employment, and does not end until the employer/employee part ways.

During the Interview

There are obvious questions that signal possible discrimination to a candidate for hire during the interview (e.g. “What church do you belong to?”, “Have you been arrested?”, “Are you in good health?”). However, interviewers need to be mindful that seemingly “innocent” questions can be misconstrued as discriminatory. For example, asking “When did you attend school?” could be a sign of age discrimination.

During the Job

If an employee has an injury or they are up for a promotion and do not get it are other situations where discrimination lawsuits are filed against employers by currently employed workers. Employers should be mindful that decisions for raises, promotions or disciplinary actions are made by merit or job-related actions only. For example, if a worker recently had a baby, but did not receive a promotion, the employer must be mindful to cite job duty related reasons only as a reason another employee was rewarded in their place. Not that the employee was on maternity leave or seems “tired” throughout the day.

During Termination

Personality conflicts are not a valid reason for firing an employee. The employer must adhere to valid reasons for termination or open themselves up to potential litigation. A good rule of thumb is to identify a legitimate reason (e.g. poor performance, violence, plagiarized work, destruction of property) when firing an employee and not share personal observations/comments about the individual.

When it comes to the American worker, all candidates for hire and employees fall under at least one protected class. It is the duty, not to mention the burden, of the employer to be mindful and protect their organization from litigation. When doing so, the employer protects the organization’s bottom line, reputation, and culture.

Learn How to Navigate Protective Classes with Timothy Dimoff

Timothy Dimoff knows the best practices when it comes to hiring the right people and fostering a positive company culture. Contact Tim to schedule a presentation 4 Keys to Smart Hiring and/or Positive Workplace Corporate Culture Starts with RESPECT for your organization today!

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