Suppose you want your employees to speak only English at work? You want employees to cover tattoos on necks? Or you want to ban the wearing of hats? Can you do these things without being charged as acting discriminatory? It depends.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its report on discrimination cases filed by employees for the 2011 fiscal year ending September 30, 2011. The report shows that claims continue to rise; in FY 2011 there was the highest number of claims ever filed in the EEOC’s 46-year history: 99,947. Claims are made on the basis of alleged discrimination for race, sex, age, disability, religion, or national origin discrimination. Religious discrimination complaints have more than doubled in the past 10 years.
Roundup of the impact of some business policies
The following are a couple of the answers to questions you may have about business practices and whether they are permissible or discriminatory:
- According to the EEOC, a rule requiring that employees speak only English on the job may violate Title VII unless you can show that the requirement is necessary for conducting business. If you believe such a rule is necessary, employees must be informed when English is required and the consequences for violating the rule.
- You are allowed to impose dress codes and appearance policies as long as they do not discriminate or hinder a person’s race, color, religion, age, national origin, or gender. One federal court said a policy requiring tucked in shirts was permissible.
Protecting yourself from discrimination claims
Make sure that your company’s policies are nondiscriminatory. Usually, if you have a sound business reason for the policy and you apply the policy to everyone, you may avoid discrimination claims. However, check with online government resources through the Department of Labor and its agencies as your first line of defense. Also, run proposed business policies before your lawyer; only use a lawyer who is knowledgeable in employment law.