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Employment Discrimination help for Small Businesses

In many cases, discrimination is not carried out with a specific intent to disadvantage a group. Rather, a small business may be engaging in conduct they believe is appropriate, when in fact it qualifies under the legal definition of employment discrimination under federal and state laws. As a measure to avoid unnecessary legal liability, there are many strategies an employer can use to reduce their risk of legal liability. The following provides a summary of basic steps that can be taken to mitigate legal liability in this area.

Understand Who It Applies To

Title VII applies to an employer “who has fifteen (15) or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.”

Understand Who Is Covered by the Law

Discrimination based on being a member of a “protected class” is against the law. The law recognizes the discrimination based on the following characteristics as being prohibited by the law: race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, physical and mental disability, age, and religion. Who is a protected class under Title VII involves a comparatively simple definition, however difficulties can arise when navigating what constitutes discrimination and the limited exceptions found in Title VII.

Understand What the Law Defines as Discriminatory Conduct and Exceptions

Above all other strategies understanding the definitions of what constitutes discriminatory conduct in the workplace is probably the most useful tool one can possess. Title VII does not require that an employer display discriminatory intent. Although cases in which an employer intentionally sets out to discriminate against a protected class, a majority of cases involve what is known as disparate impact cases whereby an employer’s policies and decision making unintentionally creates conditions in which a member of a protected class is placed at a disadvantage.

The law also contains a limited exception in which an employer may make preferential decisions that favor one protected class over another. Known as a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) these preferences are limited and must be reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that business or enterprise.

Legal Liability for Employment Discrimination

Employers that are found to engage in illegal discrimination may be liable for damages based on past and future lost wages, court-ordered reinstatement or promotion, remedial action against the employer to take measures to eliminate the risk of discrimination unlimited compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.

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