Stop Employment Discrimination Before It Starts: How Employers Can Be More Alert For Warning Signs

Workplace harassment, discrimination, and retaliation claims can drain the time and energy of small business owners. No employer wants to deal with a contentious lawsuit. But when owners and managers don’t understand their legal responsibilities, problems can emerge and compromise even healthy and functional workplaces. So what are some behaviors to avoid when cultivating a respectful, harmonious work environment?

1. Distributing workload unfairly among employees. Favoritism can leave ‘unfavored’ workers feeling frustrated, out of the loop, and marginalized. Conversely, a favored employee may likewise feel uncomfortable, particularly if the favoritism could be construed as unwanted flirtation.

2. Not respecting the privacy of employees. For a good primer about how NOT to behave as a manager of a small business, watch the antics of the fictional employer Michael Scott on NBC’s The Office. Scott regularly engages in behaviors that would – in the real world – be construed as creating a hostile work environment.

3. Failing to document events. If an employee complains to you about the behavior of a colleague, for instance, take notes and keep these notes on file. If you are confused about how to process a complaint, contact your human resources department or even a government agency such as the EEOC. By keeping careful track of complaints and official company responses, you can hopefully resolve employee issues faster and more efficiently and thus protect everyone’s rights.

4. Maintaining a biased promotion and firing policy. Whether the economy expands or contracts, employers must constantly reshuffle their human resources decks. To avoid giving the appearance of impropriety to any hiring or firing decision, maintain clear, realistic, and legal policies regarding your HR decisions. Your employees should understand your decision-making criteria. Above all, practice empathy!

5. Failing to pay attention to the demeanor of employees and to the general attitude of your workers. Gauge the esprit d’corps of your employees carefully and methodically. If even one person on your team seems uncomfortable, investigate carefully and mindfully. Be on the look out for signs of bullying, intimidation, inappropriate humor, and illegal behaviors (like drug use at work).

6. Allowing the office to get messy. A work environment that’s not clean, tidy and attractive can corrode morale. This can create stresses between co-workers and even contaminate relationships with clients. Ensure that the physical space in which you and your employees inhabit meets strong standards of hygiene.

For help assessing whether you may have a legally actionable employment discrimination, harassment, or retaliation case, talk to the accomplished lawyers here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum at (212) 688-5640 (you can also find out more at Our expert litigators can help you determine your next actions. Call today to get the help you deserve.

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