How Employers Can Minimize their Risk of Liability for Employment Discrimination
Statistics by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reveal employment discrimination lawsuits are on the rise. In 2010 alone, there were nearly 100,000 employment discrimination claims filed with the EEOC. As an employer, there are several preventive measures you can take to avoid becoming a defendant in an employment discrimination lawsuit.
In order to maintain a work environment that is free from discrimination and harassment, managers must be able to recognize and properly address all forms of employment discrimination. They must be trained so that the company’s anti-discrimination policy is properly implemented.
The anti-discrimination policy should make it clear that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in the workplace. This includes discrimination based on race, national origin, sex or religion. Other forms of unacceptable behavior include harassment, bullying and retaliation.
Facilitation of employee reporting is another important aspect of the anti-discrimination policy. By including a choice of several methods for reporting incidents, employees can decide which method best suits their specific situation. The policy should also comply with due process and accordingly contain a procedure for appeals.
Federal law requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities. This may include installing ramps for those in wheelchairs or providing an interpreter for the hearing impaired. The employer may work together with the employee to determine a suitable accommodation.
Employee complaints should be addressed in a prompt and professional manner. Sometimes, what seems like a small issue in the moment, can actually be a burgeoning employee discrimination lawsuit. The potential inconvenience of providing certain accommodations is certainly overshadowed by the inconvenience of defending a lawsuit.
Employers involved in employment discrimination lawsuits often find themselves lacking the evidence they need to assert a successful defense. It is important to ensure you have the proof you need should an employment discrimination claim be filed in the future.
Document all your email and verbal conversations with employees. Keep records of explanations for decisions regarding employee disciplinary action and firing. Proof that you implemented a fair feedback system and attempted to improve an employee’s performance prior to termination can be useful evidence that they were not fired for a discriminatory reason. Also, document the reasons for not hiring employees. If an applicant who was not hired files suit, it will be helpful to have proof that they were passed over based on a non-discriminatory reason.
Policy training should also be documented. There are many online options for employee training that require signatures indicating employees have been informed of and understand employer policies. This documentation is valuable evidence that may be presented to a jury should an employment discrimination lawsuit arise.
Common Legal Compliance Issues Faced by Churches
There has been a sea of changes over the past few decades regarding how the government regards churches. Church administrators who are relying on outdated legal information may not only be exposing themselves to tax issues, but they may also be missing out on benefits and tax exemptions that the government has recently made available to them.
Congress and the IRS have taken a keen interest in the activities of nonprofits and churches after years of abuse of regulations and loopholes by parties who are not lawfully entitled to benefits. This abuse resulted in the enactment of section 4958 as well as the Exempt Organizations Executive Compensation Compliance Project (“the Project”). The Project resulted in numerous compliance check letters being sent to thousands of organizations. Many of the examinations that opened with the Project are still going on today. The Report found that there were significant reporting issues, and issues with compliance with federal laws. Violations of tax laws uncovered by the Project have resulted in millions of dollars in fines.
Some of the main compliance issues faced by churches include failure to record activities properly, taking bad advice from the government, church nurseries, changes in the legal definition of a minister, and changes to tax withholdings and deposits.
Churches that participate in a significant number of non-exempt activities are at risk losing their tax-exempt status. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a single nonexempt purpose, if substantial in nature, could preclude an organization from qualifying as a 501(c). These days, with reductions in congregation size, churches must engage in various other activities to stay afloat, including renting out facilities, bake sales, or running a food service during non-religious events. Churches can engage in these activities, but they must be handled so as to be related to the church’s charitable purpose.
Many churches rely on the advice of IRS employees. In 2011, The Court ruled that the advice of IRS employees is not binding on the agency. This means that every church should seek the advice of an attorney or certified public accountant, as necessary.
Church nurseries must be outfitted with cribs that are compliant with federal code. Insurance companies also often require organizations to be compliant with these regulations. This means that churches should not accept donated cribs for use in their nurseries. It is even risky to donate these cribs to the needy, as it can jeopardize a church’s tax-exempt status and expose it to liability in the event of an injury in one of the cribs.
Defining Church Leaders
In 2012, the Supreme Court questioned whether someone calling themselves a “minister” was enough to confer a tax-exempt status. The ruling turned out to be favorable to religious organizations. Even if most of a minister’s duties are clerical and educational, they may still be considered a minister under the law. You do not need to be devoted to religious ministry exclusively to be legally considered a minister.
Finally, all employees of the church must have taxes withheld, and they must be paid to the IRS electronically using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. Most churches must pay payroll taxes on a monthly basis. There are fees for deposits that are made late to the IRS.
Common Zoning Issues
Zoning is the regulation of privately owned land by public authorities. Local governments often use zoning laws for community planning and regulation. Many zoning ordinances (local zoning laws) regulate how land is to be used; for example, some land may be for residential purposes while other land may be for business purposes. Issues often arise when there is a conflict between residential and business interests. Below are some of the most common zoning issues.
Lack of accessible parking can negatively affect businesses but can also decrease residents’ enjoyment of residential areas. The amount of parking available may not be sufficient to accommodate both the patrons of local businesses and residents of local developments. Residents may have difficulty finding parking close to their homes and businesses may have difficulty retaining customers who are frustrated with their inability to find convenient parking.
Zoning ordinances may regulate the size of buildings. These restrictions are in place for both safety and aesthetics purposes. In some areas, structures cannot be too tall or else they may be a hazard to flight safety and air navigation. When the government decrees a structure to be an important landmark, there may be restrictions on new building heights so that views of the landmark are not blocked.
Many local governments have implemented sign laws regulating the size, type and placement of signs. While signs are important navigational and cautionary tools, their improper placement could obscure visibility for drivers or be dangerous distractions. Furthermore, too many signs can create displeasing visual clutter for the community. Homeowners associations also often implement sign restrictions to enhance and maintain communities’ appearances.
Setback is the distance between a property line and where building can take place. In residential areas, these ordinances prevent houses from being built too close to one another and allow for access to ventilation and light. For businesses, setback ordinances often dictate the distance a building may be from the road for safety purposes.
Activities such as solicitation, selling of goods without a license, or smoking may not be allowed in certain areas. Some zoning regulations even have sound decibel limits in order to control noise pollution. These restrictions can vary greatly across cities and neighborhoods as each community aims to accomplish specific goals.
Resolving Zoning Disputes
Zoning disputes are generally resolved in one of two ways. First, the parties may file a claim with the local government. If they are unable to exercise self-help by resolving the dispute on their own, then local government will assist in resolving the dispute.
Second, parties can file a civil lawsuit. This remedy is commonly pursued in cases of alleged civil rights violations. Courts will usually issue an injunction ordering one of the parties to cease illegal or unlawful activity, but they may also award damages to parties who experienced economic losses.