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Creating an anti-discrimination policy for your employee handbook

When you started your small business, it may have just been you and perhaps a family member or close friend helping you out. As your business grows, you decide you need to hire employees to take some of the burden off you. This is most likely a good strategy to keep your business viable and growing, but when you take on employees, you also take on certain responsibilities.

Part of your job as an employer is to make sure the work environment is free from discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Even if you start with only one employee, you may want to put together an employee handbook since even one employee receives legal protections under federal and Ohio law.

Elements of an anti-discrimination policy

Discriminatory behavior from employees up through the top level of your company destroys working relationships, interrupts productivity and subjects your employees to a hostile work environment. You may not be able to stop it altogether, but you can put policies and procedures in place to deal with it swiftly and efficiently if it arises. You need to put everyone on notice regarding what you expect, what you prohibit, how complaints are handled and what happens to someone who violates the policy. Be sure to include the following elements:

  • Start with the prohibition of discriminatory behavior. You may want to include examples to make it clear what you expect and what you consider discrimination.
  • You need to devise and document a process for reporting discrimination, including whom employees should go to to make a complaint.
  • Include requirements and procedures for supervisors and/or managers who receive complaints. 
  • Outline investigative procedures, preventive actions and specific corrective actions when necessary.
  • Make it clear that anyone who does lodge a complaint will not suffer any retaliation for coming forward or for participating in an investigation.
  • Make it clear that the company takes discrimination seriously and will maintain confidentiality throughout the complaint process.
  • Employees also need to know what repercussions they face for violating the anti-discrimination policy.

Since they often go hand-in-hand, your company also needs an anti-harassment policy following these same general guidelines. The clearer you make your policies, the less confusion there will be between the company and employees. You will also need to make sure your policies comply with current federal and Ohio law. In order to help ensure your policies stand up to any future scrutiny, you would benefit from working with a knowledgeable employment law attorney.

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