Discrimination and Harassment Makes for an Unsafe Workplace

group of employees putting in a hand for team building

Your workplace should be a safe space for all your employees – an environment free from discrimination and harassment. (You should already be aware that federal laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, genetic information or age.)

A safe work environment is about more than just preventing injuries and workplace violence, it includes preventing harassment of all kinds, especially sexual harassment. We’ve talked a lot about safety leadership, good training and hiring practices – education around discrimination and harassment should be integrated into all of these.

State labor laws were changed across the country in the wake of the controversial Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings. We seem to be in a similar transformative moment as many states have either updated or are looking into updating their labor laws once again, with more emphasis on training, recordkeeping and enforcement. The shorthand of #MeToo has echoed across the entire globe and with good reason. And even the new tax law has made it harder to deduct sexual harassment settlement costs and attorney’s fees as business expenses.

We strongly encourage all employers to review their state’s laws and their own organizational culture. Every new employee, supervisor and manager should receive safety, discrimination and harassment training with regular refreshers.

It’s important to note, as May is Mental Health Month, that mental stress from sexual harassment can even lead to workers’ compensation claims. Chronic stress has physical effects and has been linked to increased risk for heart disease, headaches, intestinal problems, sexual dysfunction, diabetes and reduced ability to fight off viruses ranging from HIV to the common cold.

In 2017, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 84,254 charges of workplace discrimination with 25,605 charges of sexual discrimination. While far too high, these are the lowest number in a decade. Hopefully this means employers are taking these issues seriously and it is the start of a downward trend. When legal defense costs can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars per employment case, employers of all sizes would be wise to look into Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI). (10 years ago MEMIC was one of the first in the country to offer EPLI coverage as an endorsement to a workers’ compensation policy.)

The cost to an employer is more than monetary. When trust is lost between workers and management, morale and productivity can take a nose dive along with an organization’s hard-won reputation. Be prudent and take all reasonable steps to ensure your employees feel safe at work – be it from injury, discrimination or harassment.

MEMIC policyholders have free access to HR.BLR.com, with sexual harassment training resources and more, through the MEMIC Safety Director.