Are you weakening your workplace culture with compliance lapses?

Detroit 9-22-14

If you’re a parent, you’re probably familiar with the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” As we strive to set a good example for our children – and recognize that they’re watching our every move – we often wish they’d only heed our advice and not our actions.

It’s not much different in the workplace. In an effort to create a vibrant, positive and respectful workplace culture, it’s essential that your managers and leaders set a good example. While the connection may not be obvious, that includes compliance with labor laws, particularly with respect to the legal rights of your employees. How can you expect your personnel to trust your leadership – and actively participate in the growth and success of your company – when you’re cutting corners with basic compliance matters (intentionally or unintentionally) or, worst, violating the various protections afforded them by law?

A casual attitude toward the legal and regulatory requirements affecting today’s workplaces – from equal opportunity hiring to prevention of sexual harassment — not only undermines your authority but also increases your company’s risk of employee lawsuits. Don’t mistake tolerance for acceptance! While some compliance missteps may weaken your leadership and create a less-than-desirable environment, others may detonate a legal landmine and force you into a costly and time-consuming court proceeding. The negative impact across your culture and brand may go far beyond any court costs.

Legal protections for employees
Are you sensitive to the leading compliance risks for employers? To stay on the right side of the law, you need to be certain your words and actions align in the following areas:

What you’re saying:
XYZ Company is committed to equal employment opportunity for all employees.

What you should be doing:
In the US, Federal anti-discrimination laws apply to every aspect of employment, starting with the hiring process. Applicants are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) – all enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). From recruiting and interviewing to job placement and promotion, managers must comply with anti-discrimination laws by applying equal standards and basing all decisions on objective, job-related criteria – not protected characteristics like race, color, religion, sex and national origin.  The complexity of the legal landscape is further complicated for businesses operating in multiple countries.

What you’re saying:
XYZ Company is committed to providing a respectful, harassment-free work environment.

What you should be doing:
Your company most likely enforces a “zero tolerance” position that allows for discipline (up to termination) for any violations of your anti-harassment policy – whether the conduct is deemed illegal or not. But for such a policy to carry weight, you need to recognize that harassment prevention applies to all relationships at work, regardless of rank or seniority. To that end, every manager and supervisor should receive training on how to recognize and react to sexual harassment (Training is actually mandatory in 17 states for certain employers). Also, management needs to understand that the company is liable for harassment committed by employees or non-employees if they knew about the offensive behavior and didn’t take steps to correct it. The need for accountability and collective ownership cannot be overstated.

Be mindful, too, that harassment appears in many forms. These days, every company needs to be on guard for same-sex harassment, harassment from customers, vendors and others not connected with the company, and harassment occurring offsite, like at a conference or retreat. Also, the victim may not be the person directly targeted but someone affected by the conduct, such as an employee overhearing a rude conversation or finding inappropriate items at the printer. You must set clear expectations that all questionable behavior – whether coming from the highest ranking leader to the newest hire – will be dealt with swiftly and thoroughly.

What you’re saying:
XYZ Company is committed to maintaining a diverse workforce to better serve our employees and our customers.

What you should be doing:
Melding an increasingly diverse group of employees into a cohesive team – while steering clear of any unfair, discriminatory behavior – is among the greatest challenges employers face. In addition to casting a wide net when recruiting and hiring employees, you need to strive for diversity and avoid any consideration of race, color, religion, sex, national origin and other protected characteristics with regards to:

  • Transfers and promotions
  • Work assignments
  • Training and apprenticeship programs
  • Performance measurements
  • Wages and benefits

Beyond minimizing the threat of lawsuits, building a diverse workplace offers distinctive practical benefits, such as a competitive edge that keeps pace with today’s changing demographics, higher retention rates and lower employee turnover.

Risk-free management involves regular training
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the US received a staggering 93,727 discrimination charges in 2013. While retaliation was the most frequently cited reason for discrimination, the specific types of discrimination that topped the list were:

  • Race discrimination – 33,068 cases
  • Sex discrimination (including sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination) – 27,687 cases
  • Disability discrimination – 25,957 cases
  • Age discrimination – 21,396 cases

With greater awareness, regular training and consistency in your workplace practices, you can cultivate a more diverse, inclusive and risk-free workplace. Effective diversity training gets to the heart of the matter: Accepting each other’s differences and avoiding any words or actions that unfairly single out another person’s legally protected qualities.

Keep in mind, too, that if you ever need to defend a discrimination or harassment claim, your first line of defense will be showing your company took measures to prevent it. To strengthen your anti-harassment and discrimination policies, you should not only train management on proper conduct but also stress the importance of not retaliating against any employee who expresses concerns.

A vibrant and positive workplace culture is often the greatest defense against bad behavior that could have tragic consequences but it should be supported by being sensitive to compliance risks and taking appropriate preventive action.

Are you confident your business is fully compliant and risk-free? Are you building upon the legal requirements with a workplace culture that is constructive, respectful and diverse?

Like the content? Sign up for more…It’s FREE!

Our Privacy Guarantee: Your e-mail address will never be shared with anyone else. Education only, no selling of products or services.

Irelis Arias is the Director of Human Resources at HRdirect. In her writing, Irelis draws from 20 years of experience in HR compliance and employment law. She specializes in employee relations, leadership and employee development, recruitment, training, compensation, and benefits. Irelis has always had a passion for management and human resources and works every day showing that passion by helping others succeed in their roles.

You can connect with Irelis on Twitter or Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Mahendra K Shukla

    Dear Ms. Arias,
    Thanks for wonderfully exploring the CORPORATE LOOPHOLE which is in practice throughout the world. It will cover races, gender, social classes, as well as area specific exploitation and avoidance of Regulatory mechanism. In fact “Good Governance / Ethical Practice” are good to hear and discuss but really difficult to implement.

    With regards

    • http://www.hrdirect.com Irelis Arias

      Hi Mahendra,

      Thank you for your comments. The best defense is a good offense and setting clear expectations will make these compliance practices easier to implement.