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How can I avoid discrimination claims from employees?

When you own a business, there are not many things you can leave to chance without taking unnecessary risks. One area that may open a business owner to risk is the work environment and the treatment of employees. Although there are many variables in a workplace culture, the boss can set certain standards that improve the chances that employees will be happy, feel appreciated and be productive.

To this end, it is critical that no employees feel that you are discriminating against them or allowing others to discriminate. Unfortunately, even with comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, unfair treatment based on protected classes is not a thing of the past. In fact, claims of mistreatment continue to rise in California and across the country, with the two most common complaints involving sexual harassment and retaliation for filing complaints about discrimination. How can your company avoid such claims?

Being proactive

A lawsuit against you or your company for discrimination, harassment or retaliation will cost you in more ways than money. In addition to the loss of productivity and the cost of defending against the charges, you will probably notice a decline in morale among your staff, a reorganizing of resources from more productive assignments and potential turnover. Discrimination and harassment lawsuits also tend to tarnish a company's reputation and may harm your ability to profit or to attract valuable workers.

You want to avoid these consequences if you can. Some of the following steps may reduce the chances that your employees will face harassment or feel you have unfairly treated them:

  • Establish a firm policy of intolerance for any form of discrimination or harassment, including a method for reporting such behavior and a procedure for addressing complaints.
  • Define for your staff the actions you consider unacceptable in addition to those the government has named.
  • Train your staff to recognize when an employee is facing harassment and how to immediately put your policies into effect.
  • Hold training programs for managers and employees and routinely review your company's policies.
  • Apply your investigative policies and disciplinary methods consistently and swiftly.
  • Hold yourself to the highest possible standards of integrity among your employees.

Having your policies posted or published where employees can easily access them is important. You will also want to encourage your staff to ask questions about any policies or standards of which they are unsure. Additionally, if you have questions about how to protect yourself from claims of discrimination or harassment, you have resources available to you. An attorney with experience advising business owners with legal matters may be a valuable advocate.

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