Discrimination and harassment don’t just damage workplace morale and cause you to lose valuable personnel — they can also place your company at risk for ruinous lawsuits. The average court settlement for a discrimination or harassment lawsuit comes to about $125,000; harassment trials have resulted in awards of up to $168 million. If you want to protect both your workers and your business, the logical place to start is with strong, clear anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies
It’s relatively easy to figure out what your anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies need to convey by looking at the applicable laws. Workplaces throughout the U.S. are subject to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, and color.
Title VII also prohibits any kind of harassment based on these same characteristics, considering it a form of discrimination. Federal law isn’t the only law you may need to consider. Your state may have its own particular laws prohibiting harassment based on marital status, gender identity, or other particulars not covered by title VII. Make sure you understand the laws for the state or states in which you do business.
While you can create separate anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, the overlap between these two terms means you can also write a single policy encompassing both behaviors. Start by clearly and unequivocally stating your company’s “zero tolerance” for discrimination and harassment.
Name as many protected characteristics as apply to you on the federal and state level. Since small but significant additions to these laws may occur at any time, and since it’s always possible to omit something by mistake, hedge your bets by adding a blanket statement covering any other protected characteristics currently included under the law.
Don’t assume that your employees automatically understand which actions constitute discrimination or harassment. Spelling out specific examples in your written policies can help everyone understand exactly what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Give detailed instructions on how to report any instance of discrimination or harassment experienced or witnessed by the employee. Explain the disciplinary actions that management may take, up to and including termination, as well as the available options for employees accused of discrimination or harassment. Projections’ online harassment training can serve as an invaluable reinforcement to these efforts. Last but not least, make sure your workers have agreed to uphold your policies. Include the policies in the employee handbook every new hire receives, and require each employee to sign a statement agreeing to conform to them. You’ll rest a lot easier once you’ve set the groundwork for a discrimination-free, harassment-free workplace!
Walter is Projections’ CEO and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.