As a small business owner, the last thing you want to do is make yourself a target for discrimination. This type of lawsuit is not only a financial strain for the average small business, but can also easily become a public relations nightmare as well.
While there is nothing you can do to completely eliminate the possibility entirely, these steps can help you reduce the likelihood.
Know the Federal, State, and Local Anti-Discrimination Laws
In order to avoid acts that may be viewed as discriminatory in nature, it is important to know which things are protected. Not only do you need to know which things have a protected status, but you must also know how accommodating the law requires you to be.
For instance, when it comes to laws regarding discrimination against disabled employees, you’re required to make reasonable attempts to accommodate the needs of disabled employees and not to provide every accommodation asked of you. The same occurs with religious discrimination laws. You must make reasonable attempts to accommodate religious holidays of particular significance, but you are not required to offer employees that time off.
These are some of the protected statuses you may come across depending on where you live:
- Disability (provided the disability doesn’t interfere with the ability to perform the tasks at hand)
- Sexual Harassment
- Sexual Orientation (this is not a federally protected status, at this time, but discrimination based on sexual orientation is currently prohibited in several states)
Create Anti-Discrimination Anti-Harassment Policies for Your Business
These policies need to adopt a zero-tolerance stance on issues of discrimination and harassment and be put into writing. You should also train employees on the importance of following the policies at all times.
Address Complaints of Harassment and Discrimination Fully
Whenever complaints of either discrimination or harassment are made, it’s important to treat them seriously and investigate appropriately. It’s in your best interests to create a policy regarding investigations, and document every step of the investigation thoroughly.
Base Rewards, Raises, and Promotions on Merit Rather than Tenure
This will erase all hints of discrimination – especially if you keep accurate records of the performance of all employees – for better or worse. Document everything so that in the event of a complaint against your company, you have something to show that provides a vivid accounting of why an employee was or wasn’t promoted.
Of course at the heart and soul of it is accurate and consistent documentation of every employee within the organization regarding all complaints, commendations, achievements, advancements, successes, and failures on behalf of the business.
Therefore, ensure that you have adequate employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) coverage to help pay for legal fees and potential awards in case, in spite of your best efforts to curtail discrimination in your workplace or reduce EPLI claims, complaints are made and the matter goes to trial.