Protect Your Library from Employment Discrimination Claims
By Michael Germano
Editor’s note: This article was originally published as part of Library Management: Tips that Work, edited by Carol Smallwood, and part of the ALA Guides for the Busy Librarian series. Published with permission of ALA Editions.
The costs of defending, settling or paying damages for a verdict related to a claim of employment discrimination can be substantial for most organizations and potentially debilitating for a cash-strapped library. Money that goes toward compensating aggrieved employees can represent significant lost resources for patron services, the collection and a library’s plant or building. Even in the current economically challenging times, it makes more sense to put resources into discrimination and harassment prevention programs that into cutting corners here. The expense of a prevention program including training workshops, updating policies and handbooks, as well as review by an attorney could easily be less that the charges associated with a single employment discrimination claim.
Where do such claims arise? Where are the danger areas for managers in terms of provoking a claim of discrimination? An employee can allege that discrimination took place in a wide number of scenarios. Common ones include these:
- hiring and interviewing
- termination of employment including layoffs
- performance evaluations
- leaves for family cared
- disability leaves
- changes in benefits
- performance management
- changes in work hours
- changes in work assignment
Each of these areas represents potentially highly risky behaviors on the part of managers. For example, faulty language in a job description or recruitment posting could create problems related to discrimination in hiring. Interviewers risk asking illegal questions such as inquiry into an applicant’s health status or pregnancy or the exact nature of a disability that would have absolutely no bearing on the ability to perform a job. By the same token, changes in work hours and work assignment, if not conducted equitably and neutrally according to a policy that is nondiscriminatory, could pose significant problems as well.
The best way to prevent accusations of discriminatory behavior arising from managerial actions is an ongoing, preemptive strategy that ensures that all library policies and procedures are up to date and compliant with current federal, state and local employment discrimination laws. Additionally, established library procedures should ensure accurate record keeping and documentation on the part of the library’s that reflect adherence to those policies. Specifically, your library should follow these guidelines:
- Review and update all job descriptions including the language used in postings to ensure that there is nothing amiss or problematic in terms of discrimination, especially with regard to disabilities.
- Provide training for employees and managers alike on harassment and disability compliance particularly.
- Make sure performance evaluation processes are updated and standardized on the basis of objective criteria.
- Update benefits and leave policies, especially those related to family leave, disability leaves and military deployment as well as terminations and benefit continuance requirements.
- Create or update employee and manager handbooks that reflect policies that are clear in their intolerance of discrimination or harassment by all workers.
- Establish a clear disciplinary procedure, marked by progressive warnings for poor performance or unacceptable conduct, that requires consistent documentation and record keeping.
- Ensure ongoing training, especially as the law evolves and includes new protections against potential forms of discrimination.
- Always keep abreast of state and local laws, which often are more progressive and inclusive in terms of offering protections.
Training is particularly valuable in terms of heading off claims of harassment, of any kind, which can often lead to a discrimination complaint. Investing in training for employees and managers can be money well spent, even in times of budgetary pressures, since the cost of training programs, especially web-based ones, is a fraction of the cost associated with a single discrimination claim.
With that said, for all of the above tactics to success there needs to be a firm understanding by managers that their activities can always lead to accusations, even groundless ones and as a result must be documented conscientiously and scrupulously.
For more ideas on how to protect your library, or to purchase ALA Guides for the Busy Librarian, visit the ALA Store.
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Posted in HR Practice |
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