Facility Executive – Creating Intelligent Buildings

Discrimination Can Happen Anywhere

Posted by Heidi Schwartz

Photo: www.tech-owl.in

Apple CEO Tim Cook has made an official statement regarding his sexual orientation. While the announcement had nothing to do with company earnings or new product releases, it is being hailed as yet another revolutionary move by the company—now on its way to breaking the stigma associated with discrimination in the workplace. Mark Gongloff of The Huffington Post says the move is a way to…

…give hope to the many LGBT Americans who still face discrimination at work. More than half of all LGBT workers hide their orientation at work, according to a recent Human Rights Campaign survey, as reported…by CNN. It’s still legal in 29 states for employers to fire workers for being gay, CNN noted.

Cook mentioned that, too, suggesting it was part of the reason he broke his silence:

“I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences,” Cook wrote. “Not everyone is so lucky.” [Read Cook’s official coming out essay here.]

Running a business is hard enough without worrying about liability and litigation related to discrimination claims. However, even the most careful business owners and facility professionals may encounter this issue at one time or another.

“As with most human resources issues, avoiding the problem is always better than dealing with the repercussions once something happens,” says David Peasall, SPHR, director of human resources at FrankCrum, a national professional employer organization. “However, we recommend that employers look into Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) to protect them from claims filed for wrongful acts in the employment process.”

Peasall references some reasons why this issue is important for just about any organization. In a five-year overview of statistics from fiscal year 2009 to 2013, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission reported 486,285 individual discrimination charges filed. Although this is a duplicated count, as those filing often claim multiple types of discrimination, the most prevalent complaints are Title VII retaliation (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act), race, sex, disability, and age discrimination. 

Advance preparation is always the best defense for the business owner or facility manager. Regardless of the type of discrimination claim, knowing the elements of a claim and what can lead to a claim can go a long way toward preventing them. 

Peasall notes that although most discrimination claims spring from terminations, they can also arise from the hiring process or other adverse actions affecting employees. Following are best practices he identifies for employers:   

“In the long run, being prepared is always better than being surprised,” says Peasall. “Understanding what might create a situation that leads to a complaint and then putting the proper procedures in place to avoid the situation is the best route for any employer.”