In this paper, we look at the importance of having sound policies and procedures in place for ensuring the nondiscriminatory delivery of aid, training, benefits, and services to the public and the importance of sticking to these policies and procedures. For purposes of this paper, we will call the policies and procedures, the “script.”
Successful discrimination complaints stem from one of three problems: (1) no script; (2) a bad script; or (3) deviation from a good script.
Let’s start with “no script.” No script means that you do not have any policies or procedures in place for handling a particular situation. In these circumstances, too much discretion is left with staff members and this, in turn, leads to inconsistency (and perhaps discriminatory) handling of issues. For example, Jane Doe comes to a One Stop Center seeking assistance with her resume. She is hearing impaired and requests the assistance of a sign-language interpreter. Without policies and procedures in place for handling this request, how does a staff member know what to do? Indeed, there may be disagreement among staff regarding a proper response to the request. In the meantime, time is ticking and Ms. Doe becomes increasingly frustrated with her lack of access to your services and files a complaint with you. The importance of having a script cannot be overstated.
Now, we’ll move to the bad script. Here, you have policies and procedures in place, but they are either incomplete, or result in a disparate impact on a class of beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries. One example of a bad script is in the area of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Mr. Sanchez, whose native language is Spanish, comes to your One Stop Center seeking to apply for UI benefits. Your policies and procedures provide that you hand him a packet of forms. This is the same packet of forms you hand to anyone seeking UI benefits. The forms are written in English. Mr. Sanchez cannot understand the forms because he is Limited English Proficient (LEP). On its face, you have a neutral policy and procedure in place for your staff to follow. However, the policy has a disparate impact on LEP persons like Mr. Sanchez. Your script does not address this situation and Mr. Sanchez is effectively denied access to apply for the UI benefits.
Finally, let’s look at the good script that is not followed. In this scenario, you have policies and procedures in place that are sound, but staff isn’t following them. Deviation from established policies and procedures may be intentional or unintentional, but the result is the same—the process is left open to discriminatory treatment of beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries. Sometimes, policies and procedures are not followed because staff is simply unaware that they exist or they do not know how to properly implement them. This is generally the product of inadequate training. Other times, the staff member will be aware of the script, but nevertheless choose to deviate from it. This, too, presents problems for the EO professional.
For example, Mr. Doe serves as an employment referral counselor at the One Stop Center. Widget Company states that it would like referral of five applicants to fill a slot as its accountant. The company specifies that a bachelor’s degree is required along with one year of relevant experience. The script provides that Mr. Doe is to refer only those applicants who meet an employer’s stated requirements.
Mr. Doe has four applicants that he refers and these applicants meet the company’s stated requirements. However, Mr. Doe also refers a fifth applicant, who has the bachelor’s degree with only six months of relevant experience. Mr. Doe explains that he referred the fifth applicant because he has worked with the applicant for several months and he knows what a “great person” the applicant is. You receive a discrimination complaint from a non-referred applicant who alleges he had the same qualifications as the fifth referred applicant (a bachelor’s degree and six months of experience).
In this example, Mr. Doe had “good intentions” when referring the fifth applicant who did not meet the company’s stated requirements, but he exposed the Center to a discrimination complaint because he deviated from the script.
Thus, as the EO professional for your agency, company, or organization, you should conduct periodic reviews of the policies and procedures for your federally-funded programs and activities, tweak them as needed to correct problems, and ensure staff is trained on the policies and procedures as well as the importance of adhering to them.
About the author.
Seena Foster, award winning civil rights author and Partner of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting, LLP in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of compliance and civil rights investigations to state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, and non-profit organizations. To that end, she offers one hour Webinars, full-day and half-day in-person training sessions, and mediation services addressing a variety of types of discrimination such as racial discrimination, sex discrimination, disability discrimination, age discrimination, and religious discrimination. The federal law on discrimination is complex and affects our workplaces as well as the delivery of our federally funded programs and activities. Her book, Civil Rights Investigations Under the Workforce Investment Act and Other Title VI Related Laws: From Intake to Final Determination, has been described as an “eye-opening” reading experience and a “stand-alone” training resource. Ms. Foster’s resources and materials are designed to support the work of civil rights and discrimination professionals in the public and private sectors. You may contact her through www.titleviconsulting.com.