As owner of a small or medium-sized business, your staff's working environment is vital to your future. It is important for a successful business to provide a comfortable, courteous and safe place for workers. Even if you think your six-employee business is unlikely to experience issues of harassment or discrimination, you might still benefit from having a policy codifying a zero-tolerance stance for such behavior.
Here’s a look at concerns you might include in such a policy, to best protect employees and minimize issues of liability:
Morality & pragmatism
Establishing an anti-discrimination policy is not just good for business. From a legal perspective, it is also a necessity.
As explained by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency tasked with investigation and enforcement of fair practice in the workplace, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, put in motion the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). These three major pieces of legislation form a triangle of federal regulations banning prejudice in professional environments. States and cities also may have their own anti-discrimination laws.
Employees who believe they've been wronged in violation of these laws can bring civil litigation against the offending party in federal court. Due to established legal precedent, employers can be liable unless one or more of the following apply, per the EEOC:
- The worker failed to address management with his or her concerns.
- The employer attempted, to a reasonable degree, to rectify the matter.
Anti-harassment policy essentials
The Houston Chronicle, in its small business section, stated that any anti-harassment policy should start by explaining the aforementioned federal laws, establishing the gravity of the concerns these statutes target. Racism, xenophobia, ableism (disability- or health-related bigotry), ageism, sexual discrimination must all be stipulated as banned behaviors, along with any harassing actions stemming from such biases.
Beyond listing punishable offenses, however, these policies must also set practices for the reporting and investigation of harassment or discrimination claims. Workers should expect that their complaints are kept confidential, know exactly to whom these claims must be made, and be immune from any retaliatory action by the original aggressor, according to the EEOC.