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Preventing Discrimination in the Workplace

Preventing discrimination from occurring in your business begins with a zero-tolerance policy. Although “zero-tolerance” may seem harsh, discrimination in your business is a serious matter and should not be taken lightly. Your company culture should encourage employees to respect each other’s differences and show them how those differences make your organization stronger.

You should have a policy that is firm and documented in your employee handbook. Although discrimination based on sex includes sexual harassment, include a separate written policy against sexual harassment. Unfortunately, instances of sexual harassment in the workplace are prevalent enough to warrant its own policy.

Train your employees in the laws regarding discrimination and the consequences of violating those laws. Show them how to report instances of discrimination to their supervisor or human resources. An inclusive culture will help them not feel intimidated or afraid to report the activity. Train new employees upon being hired and provide regular training throughout their time with your company. Train supervisors and managers on how to conduct proper employment reviews that objectively document their employees’ strengths and weaknesses. Also train them how to properly handle complaints of discrimination, sexual harassment, or requests for reasonable accommodations for disabilities.

You should be vigilant in the day-to-day operations of your business for any evidence of inappropriate behavior. If you see or hear it before someone complains, take swift action to stop the offending behavior. Investigate complaints of discrimination or sexual harassment promptly, confidentially, and thoroughly. The investigation should be documented, and if the complaint is found to have merit, corrective action should be taken. The level of discipline required for each incident will depend on the severity of the action, past behavior, and willingness to change. It is important to be consistent in the enforcement of these policies.

As the owner, you also have the responsibility to provide employees with disabilities a reasonable accommodation in working conditions if that employee requests an accommodation. Not all accommodations can be provided, but you must have a discussion with the employee to try and find some way to accommodate their disability through adjustments to the duties of the job or where and how the job is performed. Some examples of reasonable accommodations include modifying job duties; restructuring work sites; providing flexible work schedules; providing accessible technology or other adaptive equipment.

This is another area that assistance from an attorney is a good investment in mitigating risk and protecting your business. An attorney can assist in drafting your discrimination and sexual harassment policies, as well as advise you on proper investigation procedures or conduct the investigation themself, and disciplinary action if needed. They can also advise you during the interactive process of finding a mutually agreeable accommodation for employees with disabilities.

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