United States: Avoiding Discrimination Claims In Construction

Last Updated: April 3 2014
Article by Howard A. Mavity

Should construction employers worry less about employee discrimination claims than employers in other industries?

Construction employees come and go, depending on the jobs and may not stay with the company long enough to develop an attachment. With such regular turnover, employees may not associate a termination with race, age, sex, national origin, etc. And with a predominantly male workforce, one would logically assume that there would be less opportunity for sex-related claims.

However, some characteristics of construction workplaces contribute to claims, and when they do occur, they tend to be doozies. Religious discrimination claims occur when contractors refuse to hire or they terminate an employee who will not work on his Sabbath. ADA claims occur because employers demand a "100 percent" or "full" release rather than requiring a release to perform "the essential functions of the job."

Just as crude behavior may generate claims of harassment by female coworkers, increasingly, male employees argue that they are harassed because of "feminine" behavior, subjected to a hostile workplace or are actually being sexually harassed. The "guys-will-be-guys" construction environment may also breed inappropriate or bullying behavior, which today's workers won't hesitate to challenge. "Boys will be boys" or "you had to be there" are not great legal defenses. And why should employees tolerate unprofessional behavior? The type of behavior that triggers a claim also may create other workplace problems.

What causes discrimination claims in the construction setting?

  • Employees may suspect a conspiracy or do not want to accept blame for their failings. So if a company is inconsistent in discipline and treatment of employees, they will presume that they were treated differently because of age, sex, etc. Consistency is especially difficult for construction employers because they maintain multiple locations with supervisors who may have limited management and HR training.
  • Many of these superintendents and foremen came up through the ranks and were not trained about discipline and "leadership." They were promoted because of their craft ability and other good qualities. These supervisors are now managing their peers and may not have been properly prepared for this transition.
  • Some superintendents and foremen may be uncomfortable engaging in discipline, which leads to more inconsistency and neglected discipline.
  • Don't hire "walking lawsuits." Employers hire employees who have histrionic or narcissistic personalities or blame everyone else for their failings, so why be shocked when they sue?

Train new supervisors repeatedly, and help them understand the definitions of "discrimination," "harassment" and "retaliation;" the need to be consistent; what "looks like" discrimination; and why they must step up to mange those employees who were friends.

Harassment, Bullying and Professionalism

Professionalism should be the hallmark of the construction crafts, and employers should hold their employees to this standard. While there's no magic prescription, employers must make their employees understand that their language, supposedly good-natured teasing and sexually infused behavior may get them and their employer sued.

Appearances matter almost as much as intent, and employees must understand that their actions may have legal consequences. About one-third of employees, including in construction, say that they have been bullied. Many of those respondents will claim that the bad behavior was because of their race, sex or some other protected status.

The Growing Variety of ADA Claims

ADA claims occur because an employer does not return employees to work after an injury or even hire them in the first place with a history of work-related claims. These discrimination claims are actually easy to prevent:

  • Consider whether an employee or new hire can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.
  • Do not require a returning employee to provide a "100 percent release."
  • Establish accurate job descriptions that accurately set out all of the job's essential functions.
  • Go through an honest individualized interaction with the employee before concluding that the employee is unable to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Document this process.

Many contractors are revisiting the idea of post-offer job function analysis where they develop a defensible list of essential functions and an equally defensible series of tests and exams that accurately measure ability to perform those essential functions.

Retaliation and Whistleblower Claims

OSHA alone enforces more than 20 retaliation laws varying from Sarbanes Oxley to claims that one was terminated because of internal complaints about safety or environmental concerns. The EEOC takes a hard line against employers who terminate employees because of discrimination allegations.

The U.S. Department of Labor educates workers about retaliation claims and aggressively protects whistleblowers and workers rights. It is easy for an employee to complain about safety, environmental, discrimination, wage-hour or other issue when they are encouraged to raise concerns. A minor complaint can turn into a discrimination or harassment claim if not recognized and addresses quickly by management.

Train frontline supervision to recognize the circumstances in which an employee may claim retaliation and the due diligence necessary for them to defend their decision. In employee discharge situations, require every discharge decision to be reviewed by human resources or legal person. However, this must be done quickly as justice delayed looks bad.

Originally published on the Risk Management magazine website.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Howard A. Mavity
In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions