While companies spend huge amounts to generate sales and grow the bottom line, often they overlook relatively inexpensive steps that can have an even greater impact on profitability.
One of those steps is to adequately train managers and employees to prevent and address discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
Every year, claims and lawsuits over discrimination and sexual harassment cost companies hundreds of millions of dollars in virtually every sector of the economy: retail, financial services and health care, to name a few.
In 2004, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alone collected a record $420 million from employers who violated workplace discrimination laws. In the 2003-2004 fiscal year, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing received more than 28,000 discrimination complaints.
As bad as the numbers are, the consequences of discrimination go beyond the big legal settlements and fees.
Worker productivity suffers in an environment where inappropriate behavior is tolerated. And, if discrimination or harassment claims become public through litigation, a business can see its reputation significantly harmed.
Without a good reputation, businesses may find it harder to hire the best employees, lure new clients or keep existing clients.
What woman wants to go to work for a company with a reputation for discrimination? What prospective client wants to do business with an organization that has a record of discrimination? Will current clients leave to avoid doing business with a firm with a bad reputation?
Beginning Jan. 1, California is no longer leaving it up to businesses to take affirmative steps to prevent harassment.
Not content to leave training as an option for organizations, the Legislature has imposed a new requirement that forces all organizations to train managers to prevent harassment and address inappropriate behavior.
The law requires all organizations with 50 or more employees , government, business and nonprofits , to have trained all managers. While some think they can start training on Jan. 1, in fact it must be done by Jan. 1. The training must be for at least two hours and include information regarding federal and state sexual harassment laws, including harassment prevention and correction, and remedies available to victims.
In all, an estimated 1.7 million managers will be required to receive training because of the law.
While the prospect of a new mandate from government on business is generally not welcome, this is one instance where the mandate can help, forcing those that would otherwise not do the training.
The result will be a better-educated work force on a sensitive legal topic and at least one thing a business can point to if claims are brought against it.
In fact, the California Supreme Court has made it clear that courts considering claims should look at an organization’s efforts to prevent discrimination and harassment and, clearly, training is one step that can be taken.
After years and even decades of being the targets of plaintiffs’ lawyers in employment cases, organizations of all sizes can take an affirmative step to protect employees from discrimination and harassment in the workplace , and protect the bottom line.
Janine LeVine Yancey is founder of Sacramento-based emTrain.