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Employers feeling the consequences of failing to address discrimination, harassment

There are many consequences when a company ignores or condones workplace harassment or discrimination. In addition to low employee moral or a bad reputation in the community, companies are also being required to pay large sums of money to compensate victims of discrimination or harassment.

According to a watchdog group, judgments and settlements against employers for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims totaled over $356 million. If this number seems like it wouldn't be too impactful across the many millions of businesses in the United States, it's also important to take into account some of the larger individual judgments that have been paid over the last year. For example, a hospital system was ordered to pay $168 million in a sexual harassment case.

These large awards are meant to compensate the victim of the harassment, to punish the company that allowed it to go on, and to serve as an incentive for other businesses to eliminate harassment and discrimination of any kind. These suits often address widespread or systemic discrimination and penalize employers who ignore complaints or retaliate against victims of workplace harassment.

Other settlement amounts are smaller, compensating employees for lost wages if they had to leave their job because of an isolated incident or one errant coworker.

Employment law experts say that companies of all sizes around the country need to implement employee training on diversity, harassment, and bullying awareness. It's also very important that victims of bullying or bystanders who witness harassment in the workplace have a confidential authority to report the conduct to who will be able to take action.

One would think that the risk of substantial negative consequences would encourage employers to take every necessary action to prevent workplace harassment, employment discrimination and other illegal and reprehensible behavior. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and when employers fail to take appropriate corrective actions, or overtly condone such activity, they should be held to account.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Workzone: Erasing harassment makes fiscal sense," Bill Tolland, Oct. 21, 2012.

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