Discrimination in the workplace is a genuine problem faced every day by employers all across the country. Laws are on the books at both the state and federal level that protect employees from facing discrimination at work. However, if you are an employer that treats people fairly and equally, you may think you are immune from discrimination claims. Unfortunately, it can be a bit more complicated than that.
Discrimination in the workplace doesn’t always flow downhill. Lateral discrimination from co-worker to a co-worker can happen right under your nose, without you even being aware that it is taking place until you get hit with a discrimination claim.
As the employer, it is your responsibility to make your business a place where every worker feels comfortable. But how, exactly, do you accomplish that? How can companies prevent discrimination from happening on the job? The good news is that you can take some simple steps to prevent problems while raising employee morale and productivity.
What Is Workplace Discrimination?
Workplace discrimination happens whenever an employer treats one or more employees differently than others who are similarly situated. This differential treatment is usually based on the affected workers’ personal characteristics and is prohibited by law. There are several different types of discrimination that can happen in the workplace. Discrimination can be based on:
- Sexual orientation,
- Gender identity,
- Religion, or
This is not an exhaustive list but includes many commonly reported areas of discrimination. With so many forms of discrimination, trying to curtail it can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially to small business owners who are busy just keeping their business afloat. But some simple actions can help avoid potentially devastating legal action.
Solutions to Discrimination in the Workplace
Here are some policies you can implement to cut down or eliminate discrimination at your company and foster a non-hostile, happy, and productive work environment for all your employees.
Write Down the Rules, Procedures, and Policies
Creating an employee handbook just makes good sense. Of course, this handbook can and should cover a wide range of topics. But it is a great place to include crucial information on anti-discrimination policies and procedures. Be careful to write a clear statement on what behavior is not acceptable. The law covers a wide range of potentially discriminatory conduct. While you cannot write a handbook covering every conceivable prohibited act, you can be careful to mention as many as possible, so there is little room for error.
Also, be sure to use language that is fair and non-accusatory. People come into the workplace with myriad personal experiences and opinions. It is best to write out your anti-discrimination policies in the least offensive language possible so that everyone feels they are on the same level playing field while at work.
And always remember the three C’s: Make the rules clear, comprehensive, and concise.
Establish a Consistent Protocol for Handling Complaints
There is no single “one-size-fits-all” strategy for handling employee complaints, particularly regarding discrimination allegations. But transparency and consistency are critical. Take time to develop a comprehensive protocol that your staff can consistently implement. Make it easy and non-intimidating for your team to report grievances.
In fact, you may want to enlist the assistance of an experienced employment legal practitioner when writing up your policies. It can be challenging for non-lawyers to see where proposed procedures might hit a snag somewhere down the road. And when that snag happens, it may be too late to protect yourself legally. Just like in medicine, an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure when it comes to establishing rock-solid complaint protocols that make every employee feel heard, valued, and protected. Reassuring employees that your door is always open and that you are dedicated to resolving issues quickly and fairly goes a long way in maintaining trust and credibility between yourself, your management team, and your staff.
Hold Periodic Training Sessions for All Employees
Writing down policies and procedures is the first step, but not the final one. You should go a few steps further and hold periodic training sessions for the entire company. Although handbooks are necessary, people often skim through the sections that don’t interest them—and for some, that includes anti-discrimination sections. Training sessions can reiterate written policies and delve more deeply into what behavior is acceptable and what is not.
It is also essential to keep these ideas fresh in everyone’s mind throughout the year. What you say on January 10th is easily forgotten by June 10th, or even the next year or five years. Holding periodic training sessions can keep these ideas fresh in everyone’s mind and foster a cooperative work environment. To keep repeated sessions from growing stale, consider using role-playing and other activities to drive home critical points in ways that don’t put people to sleep.
Ask Your Team for Periodic Feedback
Do not assume that no news is good news. Find a method of regular communication with your staff. Workers should feel free to express their job satisfaction level and whether they have encountered anything that made them feel uncomfortable while at work. Open communication is a great way to bolster morale because it shows your employees that they work for a caring company that will go to bat for them when they encounter obstacles.
Let Us Help
Establishing workplace protocol for handling discrimination claims is a critical but often dreaded part of owning a business. Employers generally want to abide by the law, but putting protocols in place that are effective can be time-consuming and confusing. The experienced and knowledgeable employment matters legal team at the Smithey Law Group can help. It is their job to have answers to your questions and to help you develop an anti-discrimination protocol that will keep your employees safe and your business out of trouble. Call us today at 410-919-2990 or contact us online today.