Avoiding Employment Discrimination and Encouraging Diversity

Avoiding Employment Discrimination and Encouraging Diversity

A workplace that’s free from discrimination doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a concerted effort on the part of employers and managers to understand discriminatory conduct and put policies in place to prevent it.

But as an employer, you will reap the benefits. Not only will you be in compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws, you’ll create a work environment that feels comfortable for all your employees.

Understanding Employment Discrimination Laws

A group of federal laws prohibits workplace discrimination. All employers must comply with the Equal Pay Act, which requires that men and women receive equal pay for equal work. Other anti-discrimination laws may also apply to your business, depending on how many employees you have.

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act applies to employers with 15 or more employees. It requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to disabled employees or job applicants unless those accommodations would cause significant expense or difficulty.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment based on pregnancy. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination or harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation or national origin. All employers with at least 15 employees must comply with this act.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to employers who have 20 or more employees. It prohibits employment discrimination against people who are aged 40 or older.

For purposes of the federal workplace laws, an “employee” is anyone who has worked for you for at least 20 calendar weeks. Part-time or temporary employees who are not eligible for company benefits can still be considered “employees” for purposes of these laws. However, independent contractors are not employees. The federal workplace laws also generally apply to companies with federal contracts in excess of $10,000, no matter how many employees they have.

How to Avoid Discrimination

As an employer, you probably don’t mean to discriminate against anyone. But discrimination can happen unintentionally unless you take proactive steps.

  • Have a set of policies and procedures and follow them consistently. Consult with an employment lawyer or human resources professional to develop employment policies that promote fairness and equality. Provide guidelines for hiring and firing procedures.
  • Keep complete and accurate employment files. Your files should document employee evaluations, disciplinary actions, performance issues and conversations with employees about their performance.
  • Consider hiring a human resources professional. If you have enough employees to fall within the federal workplace laws, consider hiring or contracting with a human resources professional.
  • Have a zero tolerance policy for offensive, derogatory or discriminatory statements or actions regarding race, religion, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or marital status. Counsel your employees immediately if they make these kinds of statements.
  • Provide regular trainings to all your employees on acceptable and unacceptable conduct.
  • Create hiring practices that encourage diversity and avoid discrimination. Have clear criteria for each job, and hire employees based on their skills, experience and qualifications. Make sure you don’t exclude job candidates based on biases that have nothing to do with the person’s qualifications for the job.

Keep an eye on your satellite offices. If your business has more than one location, make sure the managers in your satellite offices are well trained in your company’s employment policies and procedures and make efforts to monitor their compliance. Employees in small offices may feel they have no recourse if their boss harasses them. Make sure they have alternate ways to voice their concerns.