Tips for Developing and Maintaining an Effective Anti-Discrimination Policy

Anne E. Jenness
Published on : 2022-02-22

An effective anti-discrimination policy is an important part of a company’s healthy work environment. Policies and procedures can help ensure that employees are informed about what conduct is prohibited in the workplace and what to do if there is a complaint.  Sound policies and well-informed employees are critical to maintaining a work environment free from unlawful discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

Make your policy sufficiently broad.

Your written policy (or policies) should cover all forms of discrimination and harassment based on state- and federally-protected categories. It is surprisingly common for employers to have only a written sexual harassment policy in place. While it is important to address sexual harassment, policies should also address other forms of discrimination.

Regularly review and update your policies.

Ensure that the protected categories that your polices reference are up-to-date. For purposes of NH RSA 354-A, the current protected categories include:

      • age
      • color
      • gender identity
      • marital status
      • national origin
      • physical or mental disability
      • race
      • religious creed
      • sex (including pregnancy)
      • sexual orientation

Include multiple avenues for reporting conduct that may violate your policy.

If possible, provide at least three options for reporting (for example, the employee’s direct supervisor, the employee’s next-level manager, and the HR Manager). Ensure that your organization has trained all individuals who may receive reports under your policy to recognize potential violations of your policy and respond appropriately.

Do not require that employees make reports in writing.

At times, it may be helpful for an employee to provide a written statement. However, you should not require such a document before you respond to a complaint. Doing so could discourage employees from reporting issues, or create liability for failure to act on a verbal complaint.

Be sure that your policies also cover retaliation.

Your policies should make it clear that you will not tolerate retaliation for an employee engaging in protected activities like reporting a good-faith concern about a potential violation of your anti-discrimination policy.

Distribute your policy and be sure to have employees read and acknowledge it.

For most employers, your policy should be included in your employee handbook. In addition, consider: (1) distributing your policy and requiring that employees sign it during onboarding, and (2) circulating your policy regularly (every one or two years) and requiring that employees acknowledge receiving and reading the policy. Be sure that your policy is also easy to find in other locations (e.g., on your internal website, in your office kitchen or break room).

Train regularly.

Supervisors and managers should receive training that includes information on how to recognize and respond to complaints, and how to address potentially inappropriate conduct that a supervisor or manager personally observes. All staff should be trained about expectations under your anti-discrimination and harassment policy, and how to report concerns.

Anne Jenness assists clients with all aspects of implementing harassment and discrimination policies, including drafting policies, providing advice and guidance on reviewing employee complaints, conducting investigations, and presenting tailored trainings.

Anne is admitted in the state and federal courts of New Hampshire, and the State of California (inactive).