It is unfortunate but discrimination does and will continue to happen in the workplace causing some very good employees to seek relief in the form of quitting, filing legal action, or both. If we are responsible for any number of employees it is our legal responsibility to protect them from any form of unequal treatment based on an employee’s gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin, religion, age, disability, being pregnant, regardless of our personal beliefs. Not protecting an employee from any form of discrimination could cost your company an enormous amount of money.
Discrimination is not always a supervisor treating someone in one of the protected classes listed above in an insensitive, brutal, or unprofessional way. The truth is that the victim is generally the only one that notices while everyone else stands by oblivious to what is happening. One way it could happen is that your supervisor may allow someone to tell a joke about someone being “Blonde” during your daily staff meeting. Then there may be those times that the supervisor permits a birthday cake to be given to an older person that is recommending retirement. Although it may appear to be harmless and everyone laughs, these actions may be the start of an eventual problem.
Education is the best method of discouraging anyone from engaging in any form of disparate treatment against anyone based on a protected class they fall in to. Starting with the very first day of employment a new employee should receive information and training on the subject. First and foremost they should be instructed that this type of behavior will not be tolerated and what the consequences are if it does occurs. In addition, some type of annual training should be conducted and documented as well.
Producing and providing an employee handbook policy that outlines what discrimination is in each of the protected classes outlined above is a great way to make sure everyone is aware. The employee handbook should be a commonly referred to the document that covers all your employee policies, and not just discrimination. Again, this would be a document that I would make sure is given to and signed for by every new employee, as well as your existing employees.
When you have someone in a protected class that feels that they are being treated wrongly, it is at this time that they are most likely to file a claim. As an example of this, if you had an older person passed over for a promotion, while at the same time you were hiring only younger people, there is a good chance you will have a problem. If you do need to make these types of choices it is wise to make sure you document all your reasons why.
As business owners our primary concern is for doing whatever it takes to help our business succeed and that always means doing the right thing. But, since this law is written so that a supervisor or business owner is held accountable for things they know, as well as things they should have known, it makes it very difficult. Hence, making sure that you are aware of what is going on in your workplace should be your top priority. It would be to your advantage to get out from behind your desk and see what is going on. Check out anything that may not seem just right. The bottom line is that your company is looking to you to protect them.