The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently reported that they received a total of 82,792 private sector discrimination complaints in the 2007 fiscal year, the highest volume of incoming charges since 2002 and the largest annual increase (nine percent) since the early 1990s. In addition, the data also reveals that the EEOC recovered $345 million in monetary relief for job bias victims.
Allegations of discrimination based on race, retaliation and sex were the most frequently filed charges, continuing a long-term trend. Additionally, nearly all major charge categories showed double-digit percentage increases from the prior year—a rare occurrence. The agency says that the jump in complaints may be due to a combination of factors, including greater awareness of the law, changing economic conditions and increased diversity and demographic shifts in the labor force.
Pregnancy-bias complaints surged to a record high level of 5,587, up 14 percent from the prior fiscal year’s record of 4,901. Sexual harassment filings increased for the first time since the 2000 fiscal year, numbering 12,510—up four percent from the prior fiscal year’s total of 12,025. Additionally, a record 16 percent of sexual harassment charges were filed by men, up from nine percent in the early 1990s.
At the state level, Illinois employers should also be concerned about an amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act (HB 1509) that went into effect on January 1st. This amendment allows employees to sue employers for discrimination or harassment in Illinois state courts and have access to a jury trial. Previously, claims had been limited to litigation through the Illinois Human Rights Commission.
As an Illinois employer, here a few tips to consider so you don’t become one of the statistics highlighted above or find yourself in front of a jury.
- Pay close attention to key activities most vulnerable to charges of discrimination such as hiring, promotion and performance reviews, and dismissal.
- Be aware of the various forms of discrimination, the reasons they are prohibited and the legal liabilities they pose to an employer.
- Keep employment decisions focused on job-related abilities and skills.
- Identify the essential functions of each job and describe them in objective language.
- Focus on an individual’s performance of essential duties when making any employment decisions.
- Know and follow company policy and the law.
- Proceed with special caution when making an employment decision affecting a member of a protected class.
- Make sure that any performance problems have been well documented.
- Ensure that you can prove that a layoff or transfer was based on “business necessity.”
- Treat older workers in a nondiscriminatory way.
- Do not base employment decisions on past, present or future active or reserve military service.
- Take all complaints of discrimination or harassment seriously.
- Appoint a special person to handle and investigate all complaints of discrimination.
- Use exit interviews to ask former employees if they found the workplace nondiscriminatory or where any problems existed.
- Monitor the workplace for discriminatory posters, cartoons, joking, references, email, banter or customs.
- Ask employees for any suggestions they may have about preventing discrimination.
- Emphasize to all employees that discrimination is everyone’s concern.
Also remember, as employers you are required to post notices to all employees advising them of their rights under the laws EEOC enforces and their right to be free from retaliation. Such notices must be accessible, as needed, to persons with visual or other disabilities that affect reading. For more information about the EEOC, visit their website at eeoc.gov. IBI