In 2009, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 93,277 workplace discrimination related charges- the second largest number of complaints they have received in their history. Employers are responsible for developing inclusive workplace policies to remove barriers and promote a positive, supportive work environment. There has been a shift in the way management handles employee complaints related to discrimination, as today, many employers encourage their employees to report observed misconduct, helping improve management’s ability to become better informed of conflicts at each level of the workplace.
A company’s anti-discrimination policy requires proper support from management, as well as a thorough understanding from company employees in order to successfully deter workplace discrimination.
What Makes For a Standout Anti-Discrimination Policy?
In order for an anti-discrimination policy to be effective, the policy needs to be enforced by managers at all levels. Employees need to take the policies seriously– understanding they will face consequences for policy violations and that there are mechanisms in place that will catch them. Policies and reporting tools are used to reduce risks in the workplace, while also reducing any opportunities for employees to get away with misconduct without facing the appropriate consequences.
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Establishing a policy statement defines the purpose of the anti-discrimination policy. At Vodafone, they have developed their “Employee Rights Policy,” as well as this equal opportunity and diversity statement:
“We believe employee diversity is an asset to our business. Men and women of various ages from different backgrounds and cultures, with a range of different experiences, help us understand and serve our customers around the world.
Vodafone aims to create a working culture that respects the value of differences among colleagues and encourages individuals to contribute their best within an environment that is inclusive, open, flexible and fair. We will not tolerate discrimination or unfair treatment on any grounds. Employees must act with integrity and respect for their colleagues and customers. We are committed to helping talented people from diverse backgrounds meet their potential at all levels of the company.”
Vodafone’s statement is easy to understand, demonstrates the company’s goals for inclusion and diversity and states the company’s position regarding the intolerance of discrimination. Communicating zero tolerance for acts prohibited by law and deemed inappropriate in the workplace demonstrates the commitment of the company to go above and beyond the law to create a safe workplace for all.
Definitions and Examples of Discrimination
Since discrimination comes in many forms, employees need to understand what the different forms of discrimination are and why they are unacceptable. Include definitions of ability, age, sexual, pregnancy, racial, gender, religious, ethnic, equal pay and other group classifications protected under the law. Sources to turn to for definitions and legal obligations include the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, United Nations Human Rights and state and federal laws pertaining to workplace discrimination.
The article “Loaded questions, firing Baby-Boomers, and banning hats in the office: How to protect against discrimination suits with a comprehensive EEO policy” suggests:
“Clearly define which groups are protected from discrimination, and keep in mind state and federal civil rights laws when doing so. Provide examples of the types of employment decisions that are made without regard to one’s protected characteristics. These include decisions relating to selection, job assignment, compensation, discipline, termination, and access to benefits and training.”
Providing examples, as well as answers to frequently asked questions related to discrimination, should be included in the anti-discrimination policy to assist employees in developing a stronger understanding of unwelcome acts in the workplace. For example, in the Thomson Reuters “Code of Business Conduct and Ethics,” they have included situational workplace examples of discrimination, as well as answers to the following questions in their company policies to help create a better understanding of what is expected of Thomson Reuters employees:
“Q: I usually meet one of our suppliers every few months to discuss our upcoming requirements. One salesperson in particular regularly jokes around a lot and often tells me how sexy he thinks that I look. I don’t find this welcome. Can I do anything about this?
A: Thomson Reuters prohibits harassment and discrimination by our employees, as well as by individuals with whom we have a business relationship. If you find the conduct of a supplier’s salesperson offensive, you should tell the salesperson that you feel this way, if you are comfortable doing so. If you do not feel comfortable doing this, or if he fails to listen to you, you should tell your manager or Human Resources representative of your concerns so we can take steps to address your concerns.
Q: I am planning to promote one of two employees. One is a man, and the other is a woman who has been talking in the office from time to time about her plans to eventually start a family. Can I promote the man if I think the woman is likely to have children soon and might leave Thomson Reuters?
A: No, this would be a violation of our policy. In the United States, for example, a promotion based on these facts would also violate applicable laws.”
Consequences and Anti-Retaliation
Clearly list and define the process for administering reprimands to employees found guilty of violating anti-discrimination policies. Outline the order and types of warnings given to employees and provide them with examples of actions that lead to each of the consequences. In some instances, a first time offender may commit a significant act that requires greater reprimand than the one outlined for the “first warning”, therefore, it’s also wise to mention this possibility in the policy. The consequences for discriminatory acts in each company should include a level of severity, as discrimination violates basic human rights. In the article “Loaded questions, firing Baby-Boomers, and banning hats in the office: How to protect against discrimination suits with a comprehensive EEO policy,” they state the reasoning behind included an anti-retaliation statement:
“Employees should know that they are protected from retaliation. As such, it’s important to clearly state that no employee will be discriminated against, or discharged, for bringing about a complaint of discrimination or for assisting in an investigation into discriminatory practices.”
Employees need to be provided with contact information and a step-by-step process for properly reporting observed discrimination. On either the first or last page of the anti-discrimination policy, include the corporate reporting structure and contact information for the key individuals in the HR department, a Chief compliance Officer, the Ethics and Compliance Department or an Ombudsman- if present. At General Mills, they have established a third party Ethics Line, that’s available 24 hours a day to take calls. The use of an independent reporting service allows callers to decide whether or not they want to remain anonymous when reporting and issue.
Another incident reporting tool that companies have been using is ethics and compliance pages on the company website or intranet. On these pages, there are intake forms where concerned individuals can fill in then submit the form online to communicate their issue. It’s best to provide employees with a variety of methods for reporting issues involving discrimination, as each of these options are built to suit the level of comfort employees have with reporting misconduct. In order for a reporting tool to be effective, employees need to be made aware of the tools, how to use them and how they will remain protected from retaliation for using them.