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Susan M. Heathfield

Prediction: More Legal Quagmire

By March 8, 2012

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In employment discrimination lawsuits, the business always loses. Consequently, creating a work culture and environment for employees that encourages diversity and discourages employment discrimination in any form is critical for your success. The fastest growing EEOC lawsuit is for retaliation and retaliation is not well understood in most workplaces.

Usually taught as a footnote to a discrimination meeting agenda, when attendees are tired and ready to leave, retaliation deserves more attention from employers. It's official now; retaliation can really get your organization in trouble. And, did you know, that you can win an initial EEOC claim, but lose a second one for retaliation? Retaliation can be as subtle as a supervisor rolling his eyeballs or skipping meetings with an employee who has made a complaint.

I spoke with Shanti Atkins, Esq.*, President and CEO of ELT, Inc., a company that specializes in ethics and compliance training, about the rising number of EEOC lawsuits and what an employer can do to minimize risk.

Atkins predicted several issues of importance to employers in 2011-12. She predicts an escalation in business risk at the intersection of all aspects of workplace discrimination, retaliation, harassment, bullying, and other related forms of employee exclusion, mistreatment, and potential violence.

  • Employers are facing increased risk because of fast changing, legal developments in the online world of social media. Yes, employers may be responsible for the actions of employees if they harass, bully, or speak in a hostile way about coworkers online. Certainly, Facebook postings may be submitted as evidence.

  • Whistleblowing is increasing as can be seen in happenings such as WikiLeaks and recent corporate meltdowns. Partially because of the Internet, social media, and employees' online exchanges, companies are becoming more transparent. Retaliation against whistleblowers results in higher penalties to employers.

  • Whatever is said in a company will be recorded, get placed online, and go viral. Count on it, no matter how much an employer stresses company confidentiality.

Be sure to check out my recommended employer risk management and employee education steps in my article that also outlines additional problems employers face, per my discussion with Atkins.

Image Copyright Stefanie Timmermann

*Shanti Atkins has been a pioneer in the legal training industry for more than a decade, designing powerful compliance solutions for employers that maximize legal defenses, while creating a culture of ethics, inclusion and respect. She is a frequent lecturer and writer for several legal and HR associations, and hosts regular webcasts on legal compliance issues that consistently draw several thousand participants.

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