Small business owners have so many things on their plate such as, keeping up with routine office changes, so that preventing discrimination in the office might not be a top priority. However, you are required by law to protect employees from discrimination. You can prevent a lot of problems and keep your team performing optimally, if you take a few simple measures to prevent discrimination in the workplace.
Write the Rules Down
Clearly established written rules are the first step toward preventing discrimination at work. Every business should have an employee handbook, which explains benefits such as holidays, benefits eligibility, and the rules for issues such as tardiness. Policies on not allowing discrimination should be part of the handbook that every employee receives upon getting hired and then signs an acknowledgment of receipt.
Cover a Broad Range of Potential Discriminatory Acts
Discrimination is not limited to simple racial issues; it spans various issues, such as religion, gender, age, disability and citizenship, to name a few. The policy should cover a broad range of potential discriminatory acts. An example of an anti-discrimination policy statement is, “It is the policy of our company to provide a safe, healthy work environment, free from discrimination and harassment against any person based on race, color, creed, religion, sex, age, gender, disability or marital status.”
Set the Complaint Protocol
The discrimination policy should also set protocol that employees need to follow if they wish to lodge a complaint. This protocol starts with advising a team manager or a human resources manager. The protocol needs to outline how discrimination complaints are handled, from investigation through disciplinary action.
Hold a Team Training Session
It isn’t enough to have the policy written and distributed. Hold a team training session on what constitutes discrimination or harassment. Training is designed to break down historical misconceptions of what is and is not acceptable language or behavior. Training often involves role-playing and reviewing words or actions that are triggers for different people.
In addition to holding a training in a meeting environment, hold team-building exercises and events that help your employees interact and understand each other better. This might include a diversity potluck that invites everyone to bring a dish from their cultural background.
Review Company Policies at Meetings and Keep Records
Keep meetings positive but do take the time to review the company policies on discrimination. Make sure to keep a record of the training and what was discussed. Should an issue arise, you need to have documented everything you do to prevent discrimination, including reviewing policies and ongoing training.
Be Consistent With Action
It is important that managers and leaders in your company handle complaints and allegations of discrimination consistently. The protocol is established in the employee manual, and managers need to follow it. Provide additional training to those in positions of receiving complaints by subordinates to understand how to effectively handle the issue. This involves how you speak with the person making the complaint, and how you speak to the accused.
Use Fair Language
Language must be fair and non-accusatory, while taking all complaints seriously and, with the proper investigative actions. Disciplinary action must follow protocol and be consistent for all employees, whether the employee is the janitor or the vice president of operations. All action must be documented in human resource files.
Consistency is Crucial
Consistency shows that you expect everyone to be treated fairly and by the same standards regarding discrimination. It also protects you legally. No one can come back and say you allowed one person to get away with a similar behavior, with only a warning and no disciplinary action.
Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman
Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire
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