As the economy continues to plummet and the job loss numbers skyrocket, more employees are filing discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against their employers.
The EEOC recently released 2008 statistics. The total number of filings against private employers was up 15% from 2007. This increase is the largest in the EEOC’s 44-year history. Experts anticipate even more charges in 2009.
While some claims have merit, others are brought by employees who file a charge as a knee-jerk reaction to being laid off or having their pay cut. However, employers must defend all charges, whether or not they are brought in good faith or supported by evidence.
What can employers do to minimize the possibility that claims will be filed and to capitalize on all possible defenses?
Educate yourself and your managers! Learn what your obligations are if you lay off groups of employees. Speak to an employment attorney about when to offer severance, and how to obtain an enforceable waiver of claims in exchange. Train your supervisors on how to discipline employees consistently and equitably, and how and when to document. Institute and/or update written employment policies—including those prohibiting discrimination—and instruct management on how to implement them.
If an employee files a charge or has an attorney send a demand letter, speak to counsel before responding on your own so that you avoid blurting out inadvertent admissions. Also, a qualified attorney will know how and when to settle quickly, and which cases are worth fighting.
Ellen R. Storch is an employment attorney with the firm Kaufman Dolowich Voluck & Gonzo LLP. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for suggestions or questions about this column.