Managing Diversity – What An Employer Needs To Know

“Managing Diversity” is a critical human resources function for organizations large and small.  All too often, though, executives and managers lose sight of what diversity means from a legal and moral perspective, and the message then gets lost in the translation when it comes to the rank and file employee.

In 1997 the Department of the Interior identified diversity for its workforce as a crucial issue and provided the following definition of diversity for its own management purposes:

“The term ‘diversity’ is used broadly to refer to many demographic variables, including, but not limited to, racial, religious, color, gender, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, education, geographic origin, and skill characteristics…  Managing diversity is a comprehensive process for developing a workplace environment that is productive for all employees… The term ‘diversity’ is also used narrowly in employment recruiting and retention efforts to refer to race/national origin, gender, or disability…”

The EEOC (US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) is the federal watchdog that oversees compliance for legislation such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.  Discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC have been on the upswing over the past four years, going from 77,444 in 1999 up to 84,442 complaints in 2002.  Small businesses with as few as fifteen employees are subject to Title VII, but determining who qualifies as an employee for the purposes of Title VII and other federal legislation is a tricky proposition and should be determined through consultation with an attorney or by researching the legislation directly.

Title VII is not the only federal law that applies to employment discrimination cases.    For example, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, the law that created the I-9 requirements for employers, also furnishes protection against discrimination because of national origin or U.S. citizenship. It applies to any employer with at least four (4) employees. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. 1981) forbids employment discrimination because of race or color and applies to any employer, even if there is only one employee.

State laws such as the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act of 1983 (Texas Labor Code, Chapter 21) also apply to employment matters, so it is important to be aware of the complex patchwork of laws that may or may not apply to any employment situation.

The national jury-award median for employment-practice liability cases, which includes discrimination and retaliation claims, rose 44% in one year – from $151,000 in 1999 to $218,000 in 2000 – according to Jury Verdict Research’s ® report, Employment Practice Liability: Jury Award Trends and Statistics – 2001 Edition.

Though these facts and statistics point to the growing need for employers of all sizes to carry Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI), the news is not entirely negative.   According to Risk and Insurance (online at www.riskandinsurance.com) there are more than 70 insurers providing EPLI coverage and companies with fewer than 50 employees can expect to pay as little as $5,000 to $10,000 annually for the coverage.   Also, many EPLI policies come with pre-arranged legal services such as hot lines for attorneys versed in employment practices law, often at no additional charge.  Contact us to explore your EPLI options and to find out more about managing diversity in your workplace.

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