Why do southern states in particular need ethics and compliance training?
The EEOC recently released fiscal year 2013 data on its enforcement and litigation efforts. The data totals EEOC charges by type of discrimination and harassment, such as race, sex, national origin, religion, color, retaliation, age, disability, EPA, and GINA. Further, these charges are broken out by state, allowing for a clear view of regional trends in charges. Retaliation is the most common charge, followed by race, sex, and then disability – but this can vary by state.
In particular, the southern states seem to differ from the rest of the country in regards to frequency of certain types of charges. For example, the top seven states with the highest rates of race charges as a percentage of total state charges are all in the south: Alabama (49 percent!), Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina in that order. This is likely due to the obvious cultural history of racial tension in these states going back to the days of the confederacy, and the heightened sensitivity to race issues that it has caused to this day. In fact, Alabama, the 23rd most populous state in the country, had more total race charges than did New York or Pennsylvania, which are the 3rd and 6th largest respectively in population. Out of the 11 civil war Confederate States of America, only two states do not have particularly high rates of race charges as a percentage of total state charges – Texas and Florida. This is due to dilution, as these states have a high number of charges related to national origin because of the large influx of immigrants from Latin countries. For the nine others, however, race charges make up at least 37 percent of total state charges.
While not all of these charges turn into court cases and fines, a few which have turned into big dollars have included threatening acts such as graffiti of racial slurs, swastikas and displays of nooses at employee workstations (yes, this still happens). While these are a few of the more extreme cases of racism in the workplace, there are several more common situations that have been brought to court. Some of these include using racial slurs in the workplace, exclusion of African-Americans applicants from being considered for jobs, and racially-biased assignment of work schedules and promotion. In fiscal year 2013, race-based charges resulted in a record 372.1 million dollars in monetary recoveries for victims, which is 6.7 million dollars more than was recovered in 2012.
On the other hand, the EEOC statistics are also particularly notable in that around 70 percent of the charges in the past five years have been found to have “no reasonable cause.” Still, the fact that these cases are unfounded and don’t lead to litigation costs and fines is bad news for employers. These companies have to eat up the costs of employees using reporting mechanisms and investigators disrupting company operations to chase uneventful cases; the average time it takes to process an EEOC investigation is 182 days – or half a year. Reasonable cause or not, the data proves that there is a huge education problem as to what is unacceptable behavior in the workplace, and what issues or incidents can be reported.
Reports from employees on human resources topics, such as discrimination and harassment, are known to have a particularly low substantiation rate when compared to other compliance reports. This problem is even more exaggerated in southern states, since those states have a particularly large volume of reports. Ethics and compliance training on this topic has become best practice for companies, and of course is even required in certain states. The Ethisphere Institute releases a list of World’s Most Ethical companies every year, and in 2011 found that 83 percent of applicants provided ethics and compliance training on diversity or discrimination topics, which is greater than for any other training topic. Some creative solutions applicants used to communicate to their employee base included interactive quizzes and animated videos. Of course, the companies who applied for this distinction are not representative of the majority of companies in the United States, which means most companies are probably still not taking as many of these preventative measures as they should to mitigate risk.
Ethics and compliance training is a valuable resource that can clarify for employees both acceptable and unacceptable behavior in a professional environment. While some of the aforementioned incidents of wrongdoing may have been blatantly obvious, sometimes charges can be filed against employees that were not aware they were being insensitive to someone they work with. Also, the bigger issue could be that most charges are found to not have “reasonable cause.” Employees need to be educated on what is not a legitimate case, and need to be provided a resource through which they can ask questions or concerns before filing a report that will warrant a wasteful investigation. This approach to ethics and compliance training ensures that employees are not only bringing discrimination issues to the surface, but are doing so in an efficient manner for the company.