While it’s crucial to openly speak about how to facilitate a respectful and open workplace, it’s also a good idea to formally write these policies down. Written policies help employees understand and comply with your expectations– and they can help you stay on the right side of compliance. They also make it easier for you and your management team to prevent discrimination and the complaints that may result.
Written non-discrimination rules might also limit your liability in the event of a complaint, as you will have a record of your efforts to prevent discrimination.
The best place to record these rules to live, of course, is your employee handbook. If you’re wondering which non-discrimination policies to include in an employee handbook, we’ve got you covered.
Types of Non-discrimination Policies to Include in an Employee Handbook
In this section, we’re going to go over four different types of non-discrimination policies to include in an employee handbook:
- General Non-Discrimination Policy
- Harassment Policy
- Reasonable Accommodation Policy
- Leave Policy
General Non-Discrimination Policy
According to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), a general non-discrimination policy is essential for any employee handbook. These policies prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, disability, age, or genetic information.* All of these classes of people are protected from discrimination by federal law, and often by state or local laws as well.
General non-discrimination policies usually include provisions for reasonable accommodation and procedures for reporting discriminatory behavior.
When crafting your policy, be sure to include:
- A statement prohibiting discrimination, including examples of discriminatory behavior.
- A provision for reasonable accommodations. The law requires employers to accommodate applicants and employees who need to do things a little differently for medical or religious reasons.*
- Procedures for reporting discrimination. You might want to consider allowing employees to report incidents to any manager.
- A statement that assures employees that they will not be punished for reporting discrimination or participating in an investigation and that you will protect their confidentiality.
- Requirements for managers and other employees who receive reports. The EEOC recommends that you require your managers to respond appropriately to discrimination or report it to individuals who are authorized to respond.
- Procedures for investigating complaints, and specific corrective or preventive action when necessary.
- Consequences of violating the non-discrimination policy.
* Federal, state and local laws may prohibit additional types of discrimination. You may also be required to provide reasonable accommodations for other reasons. Check your federal, state and local government websites for information about these laws.
You’ve probably heard the word “harassment” many times in the past. Most people have some idea of what it means, but they don’t always understand the true legal definition.
Harassment in the workplace can take many forms. It includes any unwelcome conduct that is based on a protected class. It’s against the law when employees believe that they must endure the offensive conduct in order to keep their jobs, and it creates an intimidating or hostile work environment.
In workplaces, harassment might look like offensive jokes, racial or ethnic slurs, name-calling, ridicule, and even physical assault– but it’s not always this blatant.
Naturally, employers want to comply with anti-harassment laws. But anti-harassment policies could be important regardless of your legal obligations. Harassment is poisonous to your organization. When your employees feel threatened or intimidated at work, they are not giving you their best. Help protect your employees and your business with a clear and thorough anti-harassment policy.
According to the EEOC, it should include:
- A statement prohibiting harassment. You should provide definitions and examples of prohibited harassing behavior as well.
- Procedures for reporting harassment. If possible, employees should be allowed to report to someone who is not their boss. You might want to consider allowing employees to report harassment to any manager.
- A confidentiality statement. Promise to protect your employees’ confidentiality if they report harassment or participate in a harassment investigation.
- A promise not to punish employees who report harassment. This is very important, as many victims fail to report for fear of retribution.
- Procedures for investigating and responding to harassment complaints.
- Procedures for corrective and preventive action when harassment occurs.
- Consequences of violating the policy.
Reasonable Accommodation Policy
Another one of the non-discrimination policies to include in an employee handbook is reasonable accommodation. The law requires you to provide certain accommodations for people who need them due to religious beliefs, disabilities, or medical conditions. Even though your general non-discrimination policy already states that you will provide reasonable accommodations, you might want to write a separate policy that explains those procedures in detail.
Here are some things you might want to include in your policy:
- A statement that your organization provides reasonable accommodations to applicants and employees who need them for disability, medical, or religious reasons.
- Examples of disability, medical, and religious accommodations.
- The contact information for the person responsible for handling reasonable accommodation requests.
- A requirement that managers respond right away to these request. You might also want to require updates for applicants and employees on the status of their accommodation requests, especially if it takes longer than expected.
- A provision for temporary accommodations if the permanent accommodations might take a while.
- Any requirements of employees to document their medical, disability, or religious needs. You should specify that this information will be kept confidential.
- An explanation of what you will do if you decide to deny an accommodation request.
- Procedures for reporting discrimination related to reasonable accommodations.
- The consequences for violation of the reasonable accommodation policy.
You might be wondering why we included leave in our list of non-discrimination policies to include in an employee handbook. It’s because employees might request leave for medical or religious reasons. And if they do, there are federal and state laws that you have to comply with.
It’s also just good practice to have a clear written policy for requesting, granting, or denying leave. We’ve already got several other blog posts explaining best practices for writing a vacation policy. But here are a few more tips for including non-discrimination provisions in your leave policy.
- Clearly state that you will provide leave to employees who need it for medical or religious reasons. You might reference the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law that prohibits religious discrimination. You can also refer to any state or local laws that apply in your area.
- List some examples of religious and medical leave. Examples of religious leave include attending religious services and observing religious holidays. Examples of medical leave include going to doctor appointments or staying home due to an illness.
- Remember that you might be required to provide medical or religious leave even if the employee does not have enough leave built up.
- It is okay to have a manager meet with the employee before their leave to discuss the employee’s current workload or upcoming deadlines and arrange for their duties to be covered during their absence.
- Be sure to require that managers keep medical and religious information confidential.
- Make sure that your policy complies with all applicable state and federal laws, including non-discrimination laws, workers’ compensation laws, and family and medical leave laws.
Employee handbook acknowledgment form
This form is incredibly important. Whether you post your policies on a company portal or print hard copies for everyone, you should have your employees sign a physical form. This form could be crucial if you ever end up in court in a discrimination lawsuit. The policies in this handbook will only protect you if you can demonstrate that your employees received and read them. This form is your employees’ acknowledgment that they are aware of your policies and everyone’s responsibility to comply with them.
It’s a good idea to write non-discrimination policies and include them in your employee handbook. They help employees understand your expectations and offer guidelines for complying with them. They also make it easier for you and your management team to prevent discrimination and the complaints that may result. Protect your business and your employees with non-discrimination policies.