Resources & Insights

How Business Owners Can Respond to the Rise in Hate Crimes

September 23, 2020

Steve Doss,
Vice President

7-minute read

We’re seeing it in signs scrawled in locker rooms, in the graffiti spray-painted at work sites, in company cafeterias.

Hate symbols and messages have been cropped up in workplaces a lot lately, adding to the thousands of hate crimes reported every year in the U.S., in which people are targeted for their skin color, their faith, who they love and the languages they speak.

We’ll leave it to the social and political scientists to explain why this is happening now amid the Black Lives Matter protests or Antifa movement. But as risk-management and insurance experts, there are at least three bits of advice we can offer.

  1. If you haven’t yet, impose a zero-tolerance, or at least a no-tolerance-for-hate-crimes, policy immediately.
  2. Schedule a diversity training session for your employees and leave any politics out of it.
  3. Be sure you’ve purchased an Employment Practices Liability Insurance policy for your business.

But, first, what is a hate crime, exactly?

A hate crime, to be clear, isn’t merely some ugliness to be scrubbed off a wall; it can lead to prison time.

A hate crime is any act – including defacing property or making threats – based on animosity toward a person because of their membership in a “protected class.”

Protected class refers to groups of people who are legally protected from being harmed or harassed by laws, practices, and policies that discriminate against them due to a shared characteristic (e.g., race, gender, age, disability, or sexual orientation). These groups are protected by both U.S. federal and state laws.

Employers should know that if an employee commits a hate crime against another, in most cases, it is not only legal to fire them, but doing so may also protect your company from a lawsuit.

The pros and cons of zero-tolerance policies

Some human-resources experts will argue that a zero-tolerance policy can backfire because such policies discourage employees from reporting their coworkers for infractions they merely want stopped, rather than seeing someone lose their jobs.

That may be true, but the point is that corporate policies need to clearly prohibit harassment of any sort.

Of course, a policy you don’t enforce isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. So be sure whatever you craft gives you the elbow room you need, rather than locking you into a specific course of action no matter what.

Your employee handbooks need to be clear that (a) allegations of behavior that violates the policy will be thoroughly investigated and (b) if confirmed, the employee will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment, depending on the circumstances and the severity of the conduct, as well as other factors.

The bottom line is a no-tolerance-for-bad-behavior policy allows employees to feel safer at work and gives employers the framework to share, if not impose, their values.

Keep in mind, too, that employing a person who has committed a hate crime could constitute creating a hostile work environment, even if the victim leaves their  job. That harassing employee might continue to target other employees, who could then sue you.

Viewpoint diversity

Diversity training received some bad press lately after a Goodyear Tire employee used social media to share a photo of a slide from a training session at the plant where he worked. Among other things, the slide suggested support for Blue Lives Matter was unwelcome behavior.

Along with catching President Trump’s attention, the affair underscored that diversity training can and should include attention to viewpoint diversity.

In other words, in addition to fostering an appreciation and respect for people of different races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, gender identities, etc., companies should also help their employees appreciate and understand that reasonable people — including their own coworkers — hold a range of political perspectives on the complex social issues of the day.

That said, there’s no refuting that greater diversity in the workplace enables innovation, creativity, and employee satisfaction. It also happens to help build wealth. A study by Great Place to Work found that companies that doubled down on diversity and inclusion during and after the Great Recession experienced a 14 percent gain in their stock performance, outperforming their less-inclusive peers by four times.

The short of it is, building and nurturing a diverse workforce isn’t truly possible if you allow conduct that offends.

EPLI Coverage

So what about Employment Practices Liability Insurance and can it really help?

The answer to that is, it depends.

For starters, an EPLI policy is generally intended to respond to claims such as wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation.

EPLI policies may also cover claims for a variety of other types of inappropriate workplace conduct, including (but not limited to): defamation, emotional distress, mental anguish, invasion of privacy, failure to promote, deprivation of a career opportunity, and negligent evaluation.

Hate crimes, as you might have noticed, are not on that list. In fact, criminal acts are generally excluded from insurance policies of all kinds.

But employers are obligated to provide a safe and fair working environment for their employees. And when they’re sued for failing to protect employees from these types of events, an EPLI policy can help to “transfer the risk,” as we say in the insurance world, including the expense of defending yourself against a suit.

The hope, of course, is that companies respond swiftly and appropriately to hate crimes. But a clear-cut anti-hate policy and diversity training can only help in any response mounted by the carrier on your behalf.

Steve Doss is a Vice President in CCIG’s Commercial Lines department. Reach him at or at 720-330-7910.

CCIG is a Denver-area insurance, employee benefits and surety brokerage with clients nationwide. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We help you manage your long-term cost of insurance with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.

Also read: 5 Tips to Help Protect Your Company from Age Discrimination Lawsuits

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