Policy & Procedure + People = Protection of Civil Rights in the Workplace
Civil Rights in the Workplace
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, there are protected classes that employers may not discriminate against in the workplace, such as race, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, etc. The federal enforcement entity is the EEOC, US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: https://www.eeoc.gov/. Also, check with your state enforcement agency, which typically covers businesses and organizations that may NOT be covered under federal law or jurisdiction for enforcement. In Alaska, the Alaska State Commission on Human Rights enforces the state's human rights and anti-discrimination laws. Check them out here: https://humanrights.alaska.gov/.
Discrimination and Harassment
Discrimination happens in the workplace and it is up to the employer to take the necessary steps to be in alignment with federal and state law. Otherwise, the employer may be held liable for adverse discriminatory actions of employees, customers, and contractors. Employers benefit from having anti-discrimination policy and procedures in place; educating, informing, and making available the policies & procedures, and providing certain protections to their employees that allow them to work in a safe workplace free of discrimination, harassment, and violence. Let's take a look in more detail below on how to reduce risk and liability.
POLICY & PROCEDURES
Put an anti-discrimination/anti-harassment policy in place. The policy should be documented and provided to employees. Policies should cover definitions of discrimination and harassment and provide specific examples. State explicitly that discrimination is not tolerated and provide steps that employees should take if they see or experience it. The process for reporting discrimination should include formal steps: who to report to, where the complaint form can be found, what follow-up steps will be taken by the employer, etc.
Employers should commit in policy to investigate the complaint in a swift, respectful, and thorough manner. The fact finding process should seek out witnesses and information about the incident(s), including from the person that filed the complaint and the accused. Internal procedures may list out in more detail who will conduct such an investigation and what steps it will include. The investigation portion of the policy demonstrates that the employer is ready to act in a responsive and consistent manner to discrimination complaints. To reduce employer liability, following the policy and procedure is key.
The policy should also include specific language that retaliation is prohibited against anyone who has filed a complaint or participates in an investigation of a complaint. Retaliation is against the law. Period. An employer may not terminate, demote, discipline, threaten discipline, or create a hostile work environment for the individual who filed a complaint. There are sample anti-discrimination policy templates online. Check this one out: https://smallbusiness.findlaw.com/employment-law-and-human-resources/sample-anti-discrimination-and-harassment-policies.html.
NOTE: an employer policy cannot supersede state or federal law. For example, let's say an employer has a social media policy that discourages employees from talking negatively about the company or a contractor on a social media platform. Now, let's say an employee complains about a discriminatory practice or adverse working condition that is provided for under the Civil Rights Act, and they make that complaint on social media. This social media complaint is a protected act under state and federal law and it is unlawful for the employer to retaliate or discipline the employee despite the company's social media policy. In this case the company policy attempted to surpass state and/or federal law, which is in-and-of itself against the law if the company tries to enforce the opposing company policy. It's complicated!
Provide the policy and procedures to employees at time of hire as part of onboarding; remind employees through regular trainings and refreshers during the calendar year; and hang conspicuous posters in the office with pertinent information. Here are free federal posters for print: https://www1.eeoc.gov/employers/poster.cfm. Make an inclusive and safe workplace the fabric of your business and community culture. Bystander training is also an option that equips and empowers individuals to intervene in certain situations. Take a moment and watch this video from the American Sociological Association (ASA): https://vimeo.com/293231369.
Once the policy and procedures are in place and staff are informed, trained, and provided refreshers throughout the year, your business is providing the structure to protect the basic civil and human rights that everyone deserves in the workplace. For businesses and organizations, knowing the risks and liabilities of obstructing employees' civil rights is of utmost importance. For employees, knowing the civil rights basics will equip each person in the workforce to know what is legal and what is not.
Call us today or get in touch with us online! We can assist in policy and procedure review, training development, and onsite training of your staff. www.elizabethwarlickconsulting.com | 502-345-1354