Discrimination is a word that strikes fear in many small companies with no HR person or lawyer to talk to. Let's start with a simple explanation of what it is, and how you should think of it for your company.
First, let's start with the concept of "protected classes".
A protected class is a classification upon which employment decisions (pay, promotion, termination, etc.) can NOT be made. In other words, the classification cannot be the reason for an employment decision.
In the United States, federally protected classes are as follows: race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information (including family medical history).
**Note, each state may have additional protected classes. You can find these in a simple google search, but be sure to get the list from the state's ".gov" site to ensure accuracy.
A claim of discrimination is a claim that a decision was made based on, or because of, one or more protected classes.
Your goal to avoid claims of discrimination:
Ensure that all decisions are made objectively - in both substance and appearance - and not based on any of those protected classes.
Most would say it is fairly straightforward to avoid taking action based on one of these classes... like, you won't fire someone because of their race, color, religion, etc. Right?
The trouble ensues when there's a question - when your employee claims, or assumes, that you are making the decision for one of those reasons. They are claiming 'discrimination! This happens most often because things are unclear, vague, confusing, or poorly tracked.
The solution? Make sure things are clear, straightforward, and job-related.
Communicate plainly and professionally, and keep a record of it!
This will help ensure there are no questions about potential discrimination (or, if there are questions, they are easily answered).
Let's walk through a simple example:
Bob is a 50-year-old male. If Bob's employer fires him with no reason or explanation, he may assume, think, or claim, that it is because of his age (a federally protected class).
BUT, if Bob's employer has a record of the times Bob was late for work and previous discussions ("warnings") about being on time, then the objective truth is that "Bob was terminated because he was late for work too many times and did not correct his behavior".
Now, it becomes a little more complex when considering the effect this has on OTHER employees. It is very important to hold all employees to the same standard.
If other employees are showing up late, and not held accountable to correct it in the same way, Bob could respond by saying "yes, but you haven't held younger employees to the same standard - you are treating me differently because of my age".
So try to keep the situation simple: think protected classes first. Then proceed in a way that is fair, objective, and properly recorded.
Now, as we acknowledge that things are never really *THAT* simple, it likely spurs on more questions and complexities for you...
Please comment below - what additional questions do you have? Have you encountered a situation like this?