beer and fries

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It may be 2015 but sexual harassment and religious discrimination are alive and well. Just ask the potato packers at Smokin’ Spuds, Inc. and the beer truckers at Star Transport. The EEOC just announced successful resolutions in cases against these companies. Perhaps more interesting than the spuds and the six packs are the facts which may prove cautionary for other employers.

Star Transport fired two workers who refused to transport beer because they said it violated their religious beliefs – they are Muslim. Notably, the company provided no discrimination training for its HR personnel. Really?

Smokin’ Spuds’ management apparently turned a blind eye to years of sexual harassment of female employees by a supervisor at one of its potato packing plants. What’s worse, the company fired some of the women who complained of harassment. Now, in addition to the attorneys’ fees and monetary relief they’ve incurred, Smokin’ Spuds must abide by a three year decree enjoining the company from further illegal employment practices, requiring extensive training for employees, supervisors and HR, obligating the company to send “letters of regret” to the affected women, requiring the company to post notices of employees’ rights to be free from harassment and retaliation and subjecting the company to oversight by an EEOC monitor who will ensure the company’s compliance with the decree. Speaking of regret, I’m sure company management regrets not having a more robust anti-discrimination/anti-harassment policy.

An EEOC Special Task Force recently conducted a meeting with a cross section of people from academia, government and the private sector to discuss best practices that can curb harassment. While the ideas generated are not groundbreaking, it’s apparent that they bear repeating:

  • develop and implement a robust HR compliance program if you don’t have one already;
  • train and retrain all employees (including management and HR) on your policies against discrimination, harassment and retaliation;
  • conduct live training sessions (too much is done via self-monitored internet modules);
  • offer training in multiple languages as appropriate to your work force;
  • facilitate employees’ ability to report their concerns;
  • and, for goodness sake, don’t fire them just because they express their sincere concerns about harassment or discrimination.

Not only is it the right thing to do but being proactive is far easier and much less stressful than having an EEOC monitor looking over your every employment action for three years. Just ask the “regretful” management at Smokin’ Spuds.

So, as we head toward the end of the year and plan for a new one, take a few minutes to make sure you’re following HR best practices. Then you can sit back and enjoy a beer and some fries!