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3 Legal Documents to Support Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

An inclusive workplace is one that supports diversity and a cooperative, collaborative environment that is fair for all workers. An inclusive business culture creates a sense of belonging for everyone, helps improve team performance, and has a profound effect on a company’s bottom line. In fact, diverse small companies outperform their peers with a cash flow that is 13 times higher per employee compared to non-diverse small companies, according to a 2015 Deloitte study.

Failing to address discrimination or harassment can also lead to legal problems. Complaints may lead to investigations and even civil lawsuits resulting in monetary damages to employees and others. Business owners must practice inclusion and instill the same mentality throughout their organization in order to thrive and avoid legal exposure.

In addition to hiring a wide cross-section of employees and complying with applicable laws, an atmosphere of inclusion and diversity also requires the provision of certain resources and written policies. Saying that you are diverse or inclusive without having specific policies in place is not very helpful. Instead, you should utilize the following legal documents to put the goal of inclusion into practice.

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Anti-Discrimination Policy

Federal and state laws specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, creed, color, nationality, sex, disability, and other classifications. Many states protect other classes not recognized at the federal level, such as familial status. The first step in creating rules and standards around inclusion and diversity is to develop a policy that indicates you will not tolerate discrimination.

An Anti-Discrimination Policy sets out precisely how your business will address issues related to discrimination in the workplace. It describes expectations and includes information about how employees should report acts of discrimination. It also lists what action you will take to address any reports or complaints.

Harassment, a form of discrimination, sometimes occurs in the workplace as well. The Anti-Discrimination Policy can also set out how harassment based on an employee’s status as a member of a protected class will be addressed. Your policy also must address retaliation against employees who report suspected discrimination, which will send a clear message that complaints will be taken seriously and investigated in good faith.

Employee Handbook

Small business owners sometimes overlook the importance of an Employee Handbook, but it can be a great resource to collect all of your employment procedures and policies. For instance, a section in the handbook clearly illustrating prohibited forms of discrimination can help ensure that employees know the expectations about inclusion at the outset of their employment. If there is a dispute, a written policy proves that they were informed about the laws and your expectations as an employer.

Employers can incorporate their Anti-Discrimination Policy as part of their Employee Handbook, or they can reference the policy in the handbook and create two separate documents.  

Employee Complaint Form

As a business owner, you can’t be everywhere all of the time. Employees may be on their best behavior around you, but they may not be as well-behaved once you leave the room.

Empower your employees to report others to you—discretely, and without fear of retaliation—when they experience or witness behaviors that violate your Anti-Discrimination Policy. Spotting these issues and addressing them promptly is good for your company’s overall morale and also helps minimize the likelihood of discrimination and harassment law violations. 

An Employee Complaint Form provides a way for employees to document discrimination or harassment complaints, both on their own behalf or for others. Designing your complaint form to be anonymous will help encourage employees to report suspected violations. These forms can also be used to document verbal employee complaints to your human resources personnel, which will help enforcement procedures up to and including termination.

Get help with discrimination prevention for your business

Discrimination is an important issue that can be very costly if you ignore it. Help protect your company by talking to a lawyer about what you must have to decrease the likelihood you will have harassment or discrimination issues in the future. Ask a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney about how to get started.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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