For Employers, Government is Source of Angst, and Assistance
By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
The number of discrimination claims filed against employers reachedrecord levels in 2010 thanks in part to the difficult economy. Keep in mind, also, that an aggressive U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is seeking to make sure companies treat all workers fairly.
It's not a bad idea for employers to review employment policies. Risk managers can us authoritative information about what constitutes workplace discrimination should a question come up. Discrimination, after all, is easily avoidable, especially when employees know the score.
True enough. With more employees falling into protected classes of workers, companies in the past 20 years have been forced to defend themselves against allegations of discrimination on the basis of sex, race, disability, fair pay, pregnancy, retaliation and even religion.
"We believe that discrimination can be averted if companies, federal agencies and individuals know their legal rights and responsibilities," the EEOC posted on its website.
The best place to keep up with the latest workplace discrimination developments affecting employers is by starting at that very same EEOC website.
At the EEOC Outreach page, employers and managers will find a list of educational programs, along with information and publications on rules to protect employees from discrimination in the workplace. Information on diversity programs and legal updates on practices ruled discriminatory are also available on the website, along with information on how company managers should respond to a discrimination charge filed by an employee.
Employers looking for more in-depth training tailored to their particular workplace should consult the EEOC Training Institute. The institute offers training for private employers and federal, state and government personnel.
Over the past two years, tension has arisen between employer and employee, in part because of the difficult economy. Employers of all stripes have found themselves defending their practices from all manner of claims.
In 2010, employment-related class actions filings "increased dramatically," according to the Annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report 2011 by the law firm Seyfarth Shaw.
In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year in Dukes v. Walmart, the largest private employer class-action dispute ever brought before the court.
"We've never seen federal class actions of this nature and size brought," said Ann Longmore, D&O, EPL and fiduciary leader at Willis, in an interview with Risk & Insurance® last December on the Dukes v. Walmart case.
Verdicts in employment-related class-action disputes, while still very rare, last year broke the record nevertheless, as a jury found in favor of the plaintiffs in Velez v. Novartis to the tune of $250 million. The parties settled for $175 million last year in one of the largest employment discrimination class-action settlements ever, said Seyfarth Shaw.
The monetary value of the top 10 private plaintiff settlements entered into or paid in 2010 totaled $346.4 million, a four-fold increase from 2009, Seyfarth Shaw said.
In the end, it all adds up. Risk managers are better off playing it safe and making sure their anti-discrimination policies and procedures are watertight by double-checking with the EEOC.
May 1, 2011
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