Employers should be on the lookout for offensive speech and quash any suggestion of harassment, LeClair Ryan Attorney Carmon M. Harvey warns in recent blog
Philadelphia, PA (2/4/16) – As concern over terrorism mounts, verbal attacks and other incidents involving Muslim employees appears to be on the rise, according to published reports. But employers that don’t take steps to quell this kind of behavior could find themselves targeted by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, warns Carmon M. Harvey, a shareholder in national law firm LeClairRyan’s Philadelphia office. She will address this issue and others at a SHRM webinar on February 5.
“As employers well know, Title VII prohibits discrimination and harassment in the workplace on the basis of religion, which means that an employee’s anti-Muslim rant could get his employer sued,” writes Harvey in a recent blog post at EPLI Risk, which focuses on employment practices liability insurance, Directors and Officers liability insurance, and related issues. “And the EEOC already has been pursuing litigation, with more than 68 such lawsuits since 2010 filed on behalf of many of these complainants. That’s on top of the hundreds, if not thousands of private claims brought by Muslim employees against their employers.”
The pressure is not likely to let up, she added, noting that the EEOC declared, in a December 23, 2015 press release, that matters involving the discrimination and harassment of Muslim employees will be an enforcement priority.
To reduce the likelihood of a successful discrimination lawsuit, employers should encourage employees to create a workplace based on respect and religious tolerance, Harvey advises.
“Counseling your employees to be sensitive to those issues – and not saying anything that might violate the company’s discrimination and harassment policy – should do the trick,” she says, while cautioning employers against imposing blanket prohibitions on discussing certain topics, since that could damage employee relations and morale.
“Employers also should remind their management-level employees to be on the lookout for offensive speech so as to quickly quash any suggestion of harassment,” Harvey notes. “If they cross the line, the employee will then be subject to discipline for violation of that policy. I would encourage the employer to focus on the enforcement of the policies they already have, instead of creating new rules.”
Training can go a long way in an employer’s defense against a discrimination/harassment suit, she adds. “If you don’t have regular discrimination and harassment training, implement it,” Harvey counsels. “Communicating on a regular basis what is appropriate in the workplace is the best way to keep employees on good behavior and protect an employer in the event of a lawsuit.”
In particular, training managers is important, she adds. “Even if managers may agree with controversial political opinions, they are the first line of defense when it comes to creating and maintaining a workplace free from discrimination and harassment,” says Harvey. “If they let a few things slip through, pretty soon they’ll see a snowball of problems coming the company’s way, and that will be no good for anyone.”
To read the full blog post, visit http://eplirisk.com/i-resolve-not-to-get-sued-for-religious-discrimination-and-harassment/
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