12.23.2011

Fa La La La La La La La Lawsuit! Ring in the New Year by Keeping Employment Liability at Bay.

With the new year approaching, it may be time to review some of your old employment handbook policies. One policy of frequent concern to our clients relates to discrimination and harassment. Anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies are crucial because they put employees on notice that you are an equal opportunity employer and will not allow unlawful discrimination and harassment in the workplace. These are important policies to include in your handbooks, but in your effort to treat all your employees fairly, you want to take care not to create new causes of action for discrimination that are not otherwise available under the law.

A general discrimination policy should list the legally protected classifications (race, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability, and genetic information). While some states add sexual orientation, height, weight, and/or marital status as protected classifications, unless you are operating in one of those states, inclusion of those protections in your anti-discrimination policy could subject your business to a potential lawsuit where the employee would otherwise not be entitled to make such a claim for discrimination. If you are operating in multiple states, a simple addition such as “discrimination is also prohibited based on any other protected classification under federal, state, or local law” should cover your obligations.

Along with your review of your anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies, take a moment to review your complaint procedure as well. Your handbook should state a specific procedure for employees to make a formal complaint if they believe any of the policies were violated, but beware of establishing a policy that forces an employee to complain to the harassing party. It is wise to provide reporting options, including someone outside of an employee's chain of command. Finally, don't forget to assure your employees that their complaints or participation in an investigation will not result in retaliation. 



 

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