The Feds Talk Turkey: Business Resource Center on Federal Discrimination Laws
Well in advance of Thanksgiving, the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal discrimination laws (the EEOC) launched not just some helpful articles but an entire resource center designed to help business owners comply with the discrimination laws enforced by the EEOC. Although labeled the “Small Business” Resource Center, its advice applies to everyone really. The Small Business Resource Center (SBRC) is located on the EEOC’s website at www.eeoc.gov. The Resource Center was designed for business owners who need information both quickly and in a format that is easy to understand.
What is particularly timely about this launch is that this resource contains information about policies that businesses should have and lists elements that each policy should contain and issues they should address. On Nov. 15, at the Carriage House, the Central Maine Human Resource Association’s program will feature Deb Whitworth, who will be advising attendees about personnel policies and handbooks. Deb not only runs her own HR advising company (HR Studio Group) but is also a member of the Maine Human Rights Commission, and can thus tie policies to cases that end up at the Commission. The link to the section of the Resource Center that discusses policies is at this link: https://www.eeoc.gov/employers/smallbusiness/checklists/creating_employee_policies.cfm
Even if you decide not to have written policies, the following information from the EEOC may be helpful when developing your own workplace rules and expectations. The types of policies covered by the EEOC include:
In addition to advice about policies, the Center also has a list of quick tips, which are helpful not just for HR folks to review but important for business owners to review and for managers and supervisors to be trained on. The best policies in the world are not much use if your managers and supervisors are not on board. The number one reason why employees call an attorney? Because they are treated poorly, yelled at, or punished for reporting what they thought should be reported. Is every report made something you have to jump to fix? Not at all! But among all the feedback managers and supervisors get may be reports of harassment that need to be investigated or whistleblowing that needs to be addressed or bullying that could eventually morph into a discrimination claim. And, if you can document that you trained management on these tips, it can be useful evidence should you ever be unfortunate enough to face a discrimination claim. So, from the EEOC, here are their tips:
- Look at the facts, not the faces. Race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, disability, age (40 or older) or genetic information (including family medical history) should NOT be a factor when you hire, fire, promote, pay, train, discipline or make other work-related decisions. [In the area of disability, for example, look at the work performance, not the health issues. Specifically, what are you observing that they are doing or not doing in terms of the job description?]
- Provide reasonable accommodations (changes to the way things are normally done at work) to applicants or employees who need them for medical or religious reasons, if required by law.
- Develop a strong anti-discrimination policy before discrimination becomes a problem. [We can send you a free sample of one.]
- Ensure that employees understand their rights and responsibilities at work.
- Be alert to potential harassment or discrimination. Stop, address and prevent harassment and discrimination. [Maine law requires sexual harassment training.]
- Ensure that employees are not punished for reporting discrimination, participating in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit, or opposing discrimination. [That would constitute retaliation.]
- Post an EEO poster at your business. [Get those posters free in Maine from Business Answers.]
- Keep employment records as required by law.
- File an EEO-1 Report if you have 100 or more employees. Some federal contractors with at least 50 employees must also file this report.
- Contact the EEOC to request assistance, information or training.
One more piece of advice? Train your managers and supervisors to apply the golden rule. Even if they can’t keep all the laws straight, people who are treated decently are less likely to file a complaint. No one can reduce risk to zero but make the goal to reduce it as much as reasonably possible.
This article is not legal advice but should be considered as general guidance in the area of employment and corporate law. Bryan Dench, Amy Dieterich, Jordan Payne, and Rebecca Webber are employment and labor law attorneys; others at the firm handle business and other matters. You can contact us at 207.784.3200. Skelton Taintor & Abbott is a full service law firm providing legal services to individuals , companies, and municipalities throughout Maine. It has been in operation since its founding in 1853.