We have all heard stories of discrimination in the workplace. Sexual harassment, wage discrimination, promotion discrimination, and even discrimination against certain customers are in the headlines every day. How can you avoid the quagmire of discrimination when there are so many kinds?
Policies: The first step – and perhaps the easiest – is to set up anti-discrimination policies. These are already established by federal and New Jersey State law. In essence, a company’s policies should mirror that law. A simple statement such as the following is a start: “In order to provide equal employment and advancement opportunities to all individuals, employment decisions at the Company will be based on merit, qualifications, and abilities. The Company does not discriminate in employment opportunities or practices because of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, age, veteran status or disability."
Training: The next step – and harder – is training. Your employees must understand what discrimination is so they can avoid it. If you think training is too expensive, think of the loss of productivity, the costs and the tension created by just one discrimination allegation or law suit. Spending a reasonable sum on training once or twice a year will pay great dividends.
You should tailor your program to your company, but consider including the following:
· Define the prohibited forms of discrimination: age, disability, gender, military service, national origin or citizenship status, race, religion.
· Explain applicable law and the reasons for laws that prohibit discrimination.
· Give examples of discriminatory conduct.
· Be concrete. Do not be afraid to raise potentially offensive issues. This helps clarify.
· Tell employees who to report to if discrimination occurs; make sure supervisors know what to do upon receipt of a report of discrimination.
· Discuss when an employer is liable for an employee’s act of discrimination.
· Explain everyone's role in achieving the policy objectives of the organization.
· Outline the employees' responsibilities.
· Show employees how to use reasonable care to avoid discrimination.
· Explain the importance of a thorough and unbiased internal investigation should a claim of discrimination be made.
Note that the New Jersey Supreme Court has held that state courts should consider whether or not an employer made training available to supervisors and all employees when deciding whether or not an employer had been negligent in preventing sexual harassment under state law. Enforcement: This step is the hardest. You must follow the law and your policy. Deviations, exceptions or inconsistencies not only dilute the policies and the training, but can create a new basis for a claim of discrimination.
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