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Employee Non-Discrimination Policies

The current business environment makes a written, non-discrimination policy more than just a good idea — it's a necessity. Although you aren't required to adopt a specific policy, you are required to conform to the applicable state and federal laws that govern discrimination in the workplace.

A solid non-discrimination policy sends a strong message to employees and the legal system that your company takes discrimination seriously and that you are willing to do your best to make sure it stays out of the workplace. For business owners, that means your non-discrimination policy needs to be well- documented and at a minimum, it should contain the following elements:

General Statement
The general statement sets the tone of the policy. It makes it clear that discriminatory practices and attitudes will not be tolerated in the workplace under any circumstances, particularly when it comes to your company's hiring and promotion practices — areas most vulnerable to discriminatory behavior.

Equal Opportunity Clause
Even if you've never seen an employee non-discrimination policy, you've probably seen an equal opportunity clause. It's the short paragraph that says your company affords equal opportunity to all employees and job applicants regardless of factors such as race, color, age, gender, religion, marital status and sexual orientation. The wording for this clause is fairly boilerplate and widely available on the Internet or in your local help-wanted ads.

It doesn't hurt to add a separate clause stating that your company does not discriminate against people with disabilities as long as the individual is qualified to perform the job. The reason you may want to separate this from the equal opportunity clause is that there are certain jobs that may be impossible for people who have certain disabilities to perform. This may require the use of different legal language than is used in the equal opportunity clause.

Grievance Process
Your non-discrimination policy should also spell out the process for employees to report a grievance. Your grievance process description should clearly assure employees that reporting a grievance will not trigger retaliation against them by either the employer or anyone else in the company.

What happens if you discover someone has violated the non-discrimination policy? A zero-tolerance approach looks great on paper, but will only be effective if you're willing to follow through with it. That means you may be forced to terminate an employee at the first sign of discriminatory behavior, regardless of how valuable he/she is to your bottom line.

Due to the legal nature of a non-discrimination policy, you'll want to have your attorney look it over before you publicize it within your company. Once your attorney approves it, it's your job to make sure it is disseminated throughout the organization and that everyone is aware of the company's attitude toward discrimination. More importantly, you will need to set a good example for your employees by following the policy and modeling non-discriminatory behavior yourself.