Professional firms, even small ones, are not immune to anti-discrimination and other employment practices claims. Jennfer Jackman, a defense attorney with the DC firm of Whiteford Taylor Preston, recently so stated in a Schinnerer practice issues webinar. She pointed out that in the hiring process, in managing a staff, and in discharging employees, firms are subject to discrimination claims. They can be expensive—even if the expense is only for defense—but can be reduced and even avoided with good human resources practices.
While federal laws typically require an employer to have 15 to 20 employers before the employer must comply with specific laws, smaller employers need to be aware of the various state and local laws that affect them. Jackman advised that if a prohibited discriminatory motive is behind a decision or action taken, an employer can face liability in such areas as compensation, training, assignments, promotions, and reductions in force. In addition, she pointed out that a work environment that is hostile or adverse to any protected person or group—even if a client or a construction crew is responsible for the hostile work environment—can subject a firm to liability even if the firm had no discriminatory intent. And with new issues such as visible tattoos, the discrepancy in laws applying to marijuana use, same-sex partners or spouses, and religious practice or apparel raising concerns, firms need to be aware that essentially any term, condition, or privilege of employment is open to attack under the anti-discrimination laws.