Protect your business against workplace discrimination claims

As a small business owner, you may think you've created a discrimination-free workplace, but one complaint from a disgruntled employee could end with your company facing stiff legal and financial penalties, bad publicity, low employee morale and much more. The government prohibits many types of workplace discrimination-not just discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Let's take a look at the various laws:

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination;
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older;
  • Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (ADA), prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector, and in state and local governments;
  • Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), which prohibits employment discrimination based on genetic information about an applicant, employee, or former employee; and
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1991 provides monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.

In addition, the practices courts look at when reviewing discrimination claims include:

  • hiring and firing;
  • compensation, assignment, or classification of employees;
  • transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall;
  • job advertisements;
  • recruitment;
  • testing;
  • use of company facilities;
  • training and apprenticeship programs;
  • fringe benefits;
  • pay, retirement plans, and disability leave; or
  • other terms and conditions of employment.

How do you make sure your business is a no-discrimination zone and that no employee would have cause to file a complaint against you? To avoid discrimination, you do not have to extend preferential treatment to any employee. The law requires only that you extend the same employment opportunities and enforce the same policies for each employee.

Here are some guidelines to follow:

Know the laws: Be familiar with discrimination laws and make sure you aren't in violation.

Put it in writing: Your no-tolerance policy prohibiting discrimination should be stated clearly in your employee handbook. Employees should be required to read it and then sign a document stating that they understand the policy. Consequences for committing violations should also be clearly stated.

Steps for complaints: Make sure all employees know the procedures for filing a complaint and then spell out what the steps will be to handle the situation.

Diversity training: You may want to call in a special diversity trainer to give all employees a detailed description of what is not allowed and strategies and solutions for a tolerant, diverse workforce.


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