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Crafting a Workplace Anti-Discrimination Policy: Essential Steps

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An anti-discrimination policy in the workplace prevents discrimination and harassment of employees based on protected characteristics. The goal is to create a fair and inclusive work environment in which every employee feels safe so that they can give their best at their work. The directive sets out exactly what constitutes discrimination and bias. It also describes the actions and consequences to be taken when engaging in such behavior.

Why it's important to create an anti-discrimination policy for the workplace

  • It ensures that everyone has equal opportunities, regardless of their background. This creates a fair workplace where we listen to and respect all employees.
  • It protects employees from injustice and violations in the workplace and strengthens human rights.
  • It ensures that your company meets its legal obligations to avoid costly litigation.
  • A clear anti-discrimination policy in the workplace guides HR to properly handle discrimination complaints, thereby reducing the risk of legal liability for discrimination claims.
  • Demonstrate your commitment to ethical practices and protect your reputation. Discrimination can damage your brand image and cause you to lose customers, employees and investors.
  • They promote a safer and friendlier work environment. Additionally, employees become more engaged and productive, improving morale and job satisfaction.
  • They help attract more diverse candidates, resulting in a more competitive workforce with diverse skills and perspectives.
  • Prevents absenteeism and fluctuation. Preventing discrimination through policies increases employee well-being and reduces turnover, absenteeism and new-hire costs.

How to formulate your anti-discrimination policies

When creating or updating your anti-discrimination policies, you should consider the following points:

1.Ensure your policies comply with local, state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Stay abreast of legislative changes to keep your workplace policies current.

For more information, see the Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices booklet published by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It contains rules against unfair employment practices such as job advertising, hiring, promotion, compensation, disciplinary actions and more. So this covers everything from disabilities and pregnancy to dress codes and workplace harassment.

2.Clearly define terms like discrimination and harassment in your policy.

This helps employees know exactly what behaviors to avoid and understand the boundaries.

Show concrete examples to help employees avoid behaviors and identify potential discrimination or harassment situations.

Example: Adidas


Discrimination is the unjust or unfair denial of equal treatment or equal opportunities to individuals or groups with respect to the conditions or privileges of employment on the basis of any of the characteristics listed below. This unfair denial of equal treatment or equal opportunity may include, but is not limited to, the hiring, firing, promotion, discipline, scheduling, training, or decision on the pay of an individual or group.

Discrimination occurs when the unfair treatment is based on one of the following actual or perceived characteristics:

  • Race, color, ethnic or national origin;
  • Age;
  • Religion;
  • Gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy or related medical conditions;
  • Gender identity, status or expression;
  • Nationality, immigration status, citizenship or ancestry;
  • Physical or mental abilities or characteristics; or,
  • Any other basis prohibited by local law.

This list is not exhaustive and may be supplemented by local laws.

Harassment is unwanted and degrading, abusive, intimidating or hostile verbal or physical behavior that unreasonably interferes with a person's ability to do their job or creates a degrading, abusive, intimidating or hostile work environment. Harassment can take many forms, including physical touching, violence or threats of violence, or offensive comments. It may also include inappropriate teasing or jokes or showing offensive images. Harassment can be a single act, incident or statement, but also a pattern or series of acts, incidents or statements. The harassment can be based on any of the characteristics listed above. The list is not exhaustive and may be supplemented by local laws.

Harassment can include

  • Derogatory remarks, nicknames, slander, jokes, pranks, stereotypes or insults;
  • Creating, sharing or displaying derogatory or otherwise inappropriate written materials, images, electronic messages, videos or music;
  • Comments or behavior intended to threaten or intimidate; and
  • Other nonverbal behavior, including intimidation, stalking, or inappropriate staring, that threatens or could be perceived as threatening to another person.

Harassment also includes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is unwanted behavior of a sexual nature that is degrading, offensive, intimidating or hostile. Like harassment, sexual harassment can be a single act, incident or statement, but it can also be a pattern or series of acts, incidents or statements.

Sexual harassment can include:

  • Unwanted sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, including those that implicitly expect something in return as a condition of employment, promotion or advancement;
  • Creating, distributing or displaying any inappropriate written materials, images, electronic messages, videos or music that could reasonably be interpreted as sexual or obscene;
  • Unwelcome comments about a person's personal or physical characteristics that could reasonably be interpreted as sexual or obscene; and
  • Other nonverbal conduct of a sexual or obscene nature, including unwanted physical contact, staring, or inappropriate staring.

3.Use of inclusive language

The term “inclusive” includes all prohibited protected characteristics such as race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc., so that employees can understand which specific characteristics are protected.

Example: Google

Protected status

Google prohibits discrimination or harassment based on certain characteristics known as protected statuses. Protected status varies by location but may include categories such as actual or perceived:

  • Race, color, ethnic or national origin;
  • Age;
  • Religion or religious belief (or belief, where applicable)
  • Gender, including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender, gender identity, gender expression, transgender status, or sexual stereotypes;
  • Nationality, immigration status, citizenship or ancestry;
  • Marital status;
  • Protected military or veteran status;
  • Physical or mental disability, medical condition, genetic information or characteristics (or that of a family member);
  • Status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking; or
  • Any other basis prohibited by federal, state or local law

4.Establish clear and confidential reporting policies for employees who experience or observe discrimination.

Indicate the channels through which they can file a complaint and outline the step-by-step process for filing a complaint.

Ensure they are protected from retaliation so they feel safe and supported when reporting incidents.

Example: JP Morgan

Employees who are aware of possible violations of this policy should immediately contact their supervisor or a human resources representative or report the incident via the JPMorgan Chase Code Reporting Hotline. The hotline is operated by an external company, is staffed 24 hours a day and callers have the option of identifying themselves or reporting anonymously (where permitted by law). The hotline can be reached by telephone, Internet, mail or fax, and translation services are available upon request. Managers who become aware of possible violations of this policy must immediately report the information to Human Resources.

The requirement to report to the company does not prevent employees from reporting to the government or regulators conduct that they believe violates the law.

JPMorgan Chase is committed to promptly and effectively investigating any potential violations and taking action as appropriate.

5.Provide clear information on investigation of complaints.

Explain to everyone involved the steps for this process and the expected timelines. Ensure that all investigations are conducted promptly, thoroughly and impartially.

Example: NYU

(a) The investigation

The University will conduct a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation of a complaint to the extent necessary and appropriate. The University will use reasonable efforts to complete its investigation within forty-five (45) days of the report of discrimination or harassment and will keep the investigation confidential to the greatest extent possible. The investigator may, in certain circumstances, consider it necessary to extend the time limit for completing an investigation. The investigator shall notify the complainant, the alleged perpetrator and the head of business of any extension and, if necessary and appropriate, provide them with a new timetable for completing the investigation.

If a complaint alleges a possible violation of the Policy, the investigation will include an interview with both parties, as well as with the person who made the original report if other than one of the parties, and/or with any other person who may have information about the incident; everyone is expected to cooperate with the investigation. The investigating officer can also view relevant documents. Both parties have the opportunity to be heard and present information.

The investigation is a purely internal procedure at NYU. Every union-represented employee retains the right to union representation during the investigative process.

(b) Findings and Recommendations

The investigator communicates his findings to both parties and, if necessary, to the relevant managers and supervisors.

If the investigator determines that a violation of this policy has occurred, the school or department in question shall promptly take appropriate remedial action, including disciplinary action. Depending on the circumstances, disciplinary action may include, but is not limited to: reprimand/verbal counseling, training, censure, revocation of privileges, warning or suspension and dismissal. Disciplinary action for a violation of this policy need not be progressive, so a first violation of this policy may warrant suspension or dismissal depending on the nature and severity of the conduct.

(c) Management Responsibilities

In cases where an investigation confirms a violation of this policy, the leadership of the school or department concerned must ensure that appropriate corrective action, which may include disciplinary action, is taken. Managers must provide their human resources department with confirmation within 14 days that the appropriate measures have been taken. Management is also responsible for regular monitoring to ensure that all remedial and/or disciplinary actions are completed and no further discrimination or harassment occurs in the work environment.

(d) The investigation file

An investigation file is created for every complaint. The investigative file consists of the original complaint, the final investigative report, including a record of remedial action to be taken, if any, and any documents prepared or used during the investigation. The OEO retains the investigation files throughout the duration of the investigation. Once the investigation is complete, the OEO closes the file. In addition, the OEO records and maintains the complaints in a database in accordance with NYU's fiscal year (September 1 - August 31). The OEO will retain records of all complaints for a period of seven (7) years after the completion of the investigation.

Don't forget to include a confidentiality clause to protect the privacy of both parties. It also encourages reporting to avoid retaliation or embarrassment when reporting discriminatory incidents.

6.State clearly that your company prohibits repetitive action against employees who report discrimination or participate in investigations.

Be clear that retaliation is a separate violation that carries its own consequences.

Example: Google

Google prohibits retaliation for reporting a violation of the policies or laws or participating in an investigation related to a violation of the policies or laws.
Retaliation means taking adverse action against an employee or TVC for making a report, for expressing an intention to make a report, for assisting another employee in making a report, for acting in a testified or assisted in a sexual harassment lawsuit under any federal, state, or local anti-discrimination law, or because he or she participated in the investigation of an incident that he or she believes in good faith to be a possible violation of our Code of Conduct, the Google Policies, or the law.

In some cases, it may violate not only company policy but also the law for an employee to retaliate against another employee for engaging in the grievance process. Adverse actions may include, but are not limited to, disciplinary action, termination, or demotion.

We cannot guarantee a conflict-free workplace. Googlers can and will discuss a variety of topics - work-related and non-work-related - and are often very passionate in their discussions. If you report something that does not constitute a violation of the Policy and you believe that you are being treated unfavorably as a result, you are welcome to report it and we will investigate the matter, but it cannot be considered retaliation under this Policy.

Implementing an anti-discrimination policy isn't just about compliance—it's about creating a culture of respect and equity. Start protecting your employees and your company's reputation today with IceHrm's comprehensive HR solutions.

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