Construction Firms Facing Historic Pressures Must Still Focus on Compliance or Risk Lawsuits

This article was written by attorneys Janell Stanton and Lauren Skildum with Wagner, Falconer & Judd, Ltd. and The Compliance Center. To learn more about The Compliance Center, our all-in-one HR compliance platform, please reach out to Chris Kelly with AssetHR.

It is no secret that the construction industry has been facing significant issues completing its project backlog that have caused stress on business.  Since construction is one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy, most can appreciate these concerns, as they in turn impact many other sectors of business.  The two main problems most of the industry is navigating are: supply chain issues and shortage of workers.  First, current supply chain issues are pushing delivery dates to double or triple their typical timelines, which make planning projects difficult and deadlines tough to uphold.  Further, even when materials or equipment are available, US Inflation at a current rate of 8.52% is driving costs to unprecedented highs.  Second, the effects of the pandemic have left a significant shortage of skilled workers in the US labor market.  It is difficult to retain quality employees and challenging to hire new or replacement workers.  This labor shortage puts pressure on any project to complete the work on time and within budget.  In some instances, construction firms have taken a laxer approach to compliance, often with dire consequences.

However, these pressures on construction firms should not cause HR departments to “throw out the baby with the bathwater.”  In May, during hearings, the EEOC cited the construction industry’s culture of racism and sexism and commented that, with much of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act being earmarked for construction firms, the Act should not fund an environment of hate.  It is safe to say that construction firms are squarely in the EEOC’s enforcement crosshairs, which is never a good place to be.

Consider a case that a Washington HVAC contractor recently settled with the EEOC.  The case involved allegations against the HVAC contractor’s owner who was accused of sexually harassing female employees, including telling women they did not belong in the building trades, engaging in nonconsensual touching, leaving condoms and lubricant out in public areas of the building, and asking women to wear more revealing clothing.  Ultimately, the contractor reached a settlement with the EEOC agreeing to be subject to federal oversight for five years and pay out a total of $361,000 to seven women who were subjected to the owner’s harassing conduct

Against this backdrop, it has never been more important for construction firms to recommit to compliance: starting with its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.

Review: HR representatives should review existing policies and ensure they are up to date.  If any changes are needed, or an audit reveals some employees have not received the policy, HR should undertake to ensure all employees receive and acknowledge receipt of the policies.

Train: All employees and managers should receive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training, ideally on an annual basis.  Companies should ensure that they comply with any specific state or local laws requiring employee and manager training.

Enforce: Compliant policies are no good if they are not properly enforced.  HR must take all allegations of discrimination and harassment seriously, regardless of the position of power the alleged perpetrator may occupy.  Companies should conduct thorough investigations.  Employees should be subject to appropriate remedial action, including termination of employment if the circumstances warrant.