Workplace discrimination has become one of the hottest HR-related topics for employers and small businesses. Now, more than ever, everyone from small business owners to CEOs at Fortune 500 companies is committed to preventing discrimination in the workplace. And, while there are certain laws in place to help prevent workplace discrimination, many business leaders still have significant questions about what does or doesn’t constitute discrimination.

While navigating the “gray area” might be a cause of frustration, the good news is that you can prevent a lot of problems if you take time to understand how workplace discrimination is defined and implement a few simple measures to prevent it in your organization.

What is Workplace Discrimination?

Before we take time to talk about preventing workplace discrimination, it’s important to define it. Discrimination is defined as treating a person or group less favorably than another person or group due to their circumstances or personal characteristics. It can be direct, in the form of treating a person with a particular attribute differently than a person without that attribute (i.e. not hiring someone of a certain religion). It can also be indirect, in the form of imposing a requirement that someone with a certain attribute cannot comply with (i.e. using hiring criteria that adversely impacts any protected category under the law).

As a small business owner or employer, you have legal responsibilities under the federal employment anti-discrimination laws depending on the size of your business:

  • 1 or more employees: You are covered by the law that requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work to male and female employees.
  • 15 or more employees: You are covered by the laws that prohibit discrimination based on the factor above + race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • 20 or more employees: You are covered by the laws that prohibit discrimination based on the factors above + age (40 or older).

State and/or local employment discrimination laws may also apply to your business.

How to Prevent Workplace Discrimination?

Here are a few factors we suggest when we’re working with a business leader to establish a plan for preventing workplace discrimination:

1. Develop a written policy that defines rules and procedures. 

Creating a clearly-written policy is the first step toward preventing discrimination at work. This is just one of the reasons it is important to develop an employee handbook. Every handbook should include a policy on discrimination that every employee receives and signs an acknowledgment of receipt. Your policy should cover a broad range of potential discriminatory acts and include a protocol that outlines how discrimination complaints are submitted, handled, and resolved.

2. Establish a consistent process for resolving discrimination issues. 

Resolving issues quickly and fairly is incredibly important—even if your business isn’t in legal jeopardy, a lingering workplace discrimination issue can lead to losing trust and credibility with your employees. Consistency in how you address and resolve issues shows that you expect everyone to be treated fairly and by the same standards regarding discrimination. While there is no single “right” procedure for workplace discrimination, it’s important to establish a process that fits your organization’s size, structure, and resources.

3. Continually educate employees on their role in preventing discrimination. 

For most businesses, addressing the issue in the employee handbook and onboarding process isn’t enough. Some state laws require employers to regularly conduct anti-discrimination training programs. Whether you’re required by law or you want to be more proactive about avoiding discrimination, it’s important to ensure that employees are aware of your policies and procedures and know how to report allegations. It’s also recommended that you conduct a separate or enhanced program for supervisory or managerial employees, as they are often your first line of defense in preventing workplace discrimination.

Our Team at LBMC Employment Partners is Here to Help

At LBMC Employment Partners, helping our clients prevent workplace discrimination and address any potential issues are things we take very seriously. Whether you’re looking to develop a formal written policy, or you want to protect yourself against discrimination lawsuits, our team is here to help. Connect with our team today to learn how we can help you prevent and address potential discrimination issues in the work environment.