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Employment discrimination is toxic for the employer, the perpetrator and the victim. It cripples productivity, creates a hostile work environment and hurts employee morale.
If allowed to continue, it can lead to costly lawsuits and damage a business’s image, reputation and brand.
The best way an employer can avoid being found liable for employment discrimination is to make equal opportunity the company standard — from recruitment to promotions, pay, benefits and training opportunities. Employers should know enough about employment law to recognize discrimination and the potential for discrimination when they see it and to ask for expert help if they are unsure.
Employees share responsibility for keeping the workplace free of discrimination. Employees should not tell jokes that disparage sexual or racial minorities, for example, and should not tolerate other people who behave badly toward them, or their co-workers. Management must encourage a climate of comfort for employees to report discriminatory, or harassing behavior.
Employment discrimination happens when one worker — or one class of workers —receives preferential treatment over another not on the basis of performance or ability, but instead because of a characteristic such as gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, national origin, disability or political ideology. Retaliation for filing a complaint and sexual harassment are related forms of employment discrimination. Employment discrimination is addressed in numerous laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Few New Mexico employers are experts in employment discrimination law, leaving that job to their human resources experts or legal advisers. But they and their employees should act affirmatively to foster a workplace where the only distinctions made are between employees who perform above expectations and those who consistently underperform.
Every company policy manual should include a statement that the business has zero tolerance for discrimination. Every employee should sign a form saying he or she has read the policy and understands it.
Mandatory training sessions given once or twice a year on employment discrimination can reinforce the policy and give employees a chance to ask questions.
Employees should feel safe approaching supervisors or human resources to report discrimination, or to file a complaint and management must investigate all such reports and complaints.
Employees can contribute to a discrimination-free workplace by modeling the company’s cultural taboos against discrimination. They should treat others the way they want people to treat them — with respect, professionalism and genuine inclusiveness.
Employees should not tolerate co-workers or managers who make insensitive or blatantly prejudicial comments — whether or not someone in the target group has heard the comment.
Such interventions should be handled at the lowest level possible — a constructive one-on-one conversation is ideal — but if the behavior doesn’t stop, employees should discuss the problem with a manager or human resources.
They should document incidents and bring that documentation to management if requested to do so.
Employees and employers can benefit from the experience and knowledge provided by attorneys who specialize in employment discrimination matters.
Should a case result in litigation, legal representation is essential. Visit montand.com for more information.
Finance New Mexico is a public service initiative to assist individuals and businesses with obtaining skills and funding resources for their business or idea. To learn more, go to FinanceNewMexico.org.