At one time or another, a business with a full-time staff of 20 or more employees, will likely face an employee complaint of discrimination. As companies look to their budgets in a down economy and potentially face cutting staff, ask: Is your company adequately prepared to defend against such potential complaints? This is one area of law where an ounce of prevention is very much worth a pound of cure.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits discrimination in employment based upon race, sex (including pregnancy), age, disability and national origin. Title VII also prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace or retaliation against employees for engaging in “protected activities” – particularly against employees reporting perceived discrimination in the workplace.
The following tips should both assist in preventing unlawful discrimination and provide a viable initial defense if your business is confronted with a complaint or grievance.
1. Create a no tolerance culture: The best defense is to develop a genuine culture of “no tolerance” for discrimination, sexual harassment or retaliation. A required first step is to let your employees know their rights by posting EEOC notices in locations accessible and visible to all employees.
2. Announce Your No Tolerance Policy: Every employer should have strong written policies prohibiting workplace discrimination, sexual harassment and a hostile workplace environment. While you may be tempted to use pre-drafted policies from form books or the Internet, your company is better served by having an employment attorney review the company’s policy statements to ensure they contain the model language recognized by the EEOC.
3. Ensure Every Employee Knows the Policies: All employees, particularly supervisors, managers and executives, should be required to sign and attest to the fact that they have read and that they understand the company’s policies. The signed acknowledgements should be placed in each employee’s personnel file. This process should be repeated on a yearly basis.
4. Train Your Supervisors and Managers: Provide educational training that let’s your supervisors and managers know what constitutes discrimination, sexual harassment and a hostile workplace environment. Let your managers and supervisors know that they must follow company procedures for grievances and that any form of retaliation by a supervisor or manager will be a cause for termination.
5. Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say: Do not give lip service to your company’s no tolerance policy. Provide employees a safe, fair, confidential process where they can report complaints about discrimination, sexual harassment and/or a hostile workplace environment. Every company should have a written, plainly understood grievance or complaint process where their employees can express concerns about unlawful discrimination and/or can report incidents of discrimination, sexual harassment or retaliation.
6. Key Words – Safe, Secure and Confidential: It is worth repeating -- provide employees a safe, secure and confidential process to report discrimination and sexual harassment and other violations of Title VII. An employee’s immediate supervisor should never be the person to receive complaints of this nature from his/her department. Never put the possible “victim” together in a room with the alleged “violator” to “talk this out.” Document all complaints, the company’s follow-up and ultimate determination and resolution regarding employee complaints.
7. Take it Seriously: Simply put – your company should provide employees a safe and secure workplace. Whether your company or organization is large, small or somewhere in between, take every complaint very seriously. Respect your employees by listening, acting and resolving their problems.
These tips are provided as guidance to employers. They are not a substitute for legal advice. However, you can be sure that a safe workplace is good for business and will lead to greater productivity from your employees.
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