Boy do I love Tacos. Chicken Tacos, Steak Tacos, Shrimp Tacos, even Vegetarian Tacos. And one place that I really enjoy getting tacos from is Sol Mexican Grill in Washington, D.C. (hat tip to Chipotle, Baja Fresh, District Taco, and all the other great taco shops out there).
So what does this post about delicious tacos have to do with running a small business and employing people? Sol Mexican Grill was the recipient of a class action lawsuit several years ago. The lawsuit has since made its way onto the desk of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The issue that Sol was up against? Harassment and Retaliation.
The lawsuit alleged that female employees were subject to unwelcome sexual comments, advances, and physical touching – all from one supervisor. And when these female employees complained about the behavior of their supervisor, their hours were slashed and their employment was terminated. This is the stuff that should give business owners and HR managers a case of indigestion that’s worse than any habanero hot sauce out there (although Marie Sharp’s BEWARE sauce gets pretty close).
We found out on August 18th that Sol Mexican Grill – along with one of their subsidiaries – settled their EEOC charge with a $50k settlement payment. We sure hope that the settlement was paid by their insurer and not out of their operating account! And keep in mind that they probably had to pay a nice chunk of their own legal fees in addition to that settlement payment. Here are some things that we ALWAYS encourage companies to do/have in order to avoid lawsuits like these:
Regardless of your company’s size, you should have a policy, in writing, that defines Harassment and Discrimination. The policy should also explain how employees report Harassment and Discrimination, and what to do if they have experienced it or witnessed it, what to do if their manager was the one who perpetrated it, etc.
Every employee should undergo Harassment and Discrimination training. Every manager should undergo a similar type of training as well – but geared towards the management of others. While we can’t include every element of that training here in this post, it should include identifying Harassment and Discrimination, it’s various forms, what to do about it, and how to protect against it, an acknowledgment by employees that they will report it, and some way to track all of this.
Any time a business leader hears about Harassment or Discrimination in their workplace they should look into the claims and document their findings. If they suspect that Harassment or Discrimination is occurring they should consider launching an investigation. While there are specific steps to take when conducting an investigation, and while you can engage an outside third party to help with the investigation, remember that something is always better than nothing. Start by asking some questions, writing things down, being objective, and caring about the people that you work with.
Having Employment Practices Insurance in place may help mitigate the costs associated with a Harassment or Discrimination claim. Everything from attorney’s fees to fines and penalties may be covered by a good EPLI policy. But just because you have insurance doesn’t mean that you can neglect the other points above. And you may run into some issues with insurance covering any claims you have if you’re willfully ignoring reports of Harassment or Discrimination.
So there you have it. These are some of the basic steps that you want to put into place before you hire anyone. And make sure to talk to someone at Suitless who can help guide you through all of the nuances associated with Harassment and Discrimination issues. A good HR professional should be able to help you spot the issues before they happen, protect against those issues, and help you create an environment where they are less likely to occur. Olé!