Dealing With Workplace Discrimination

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<p><strong>Neenah, Wis. &mdash; Oct. 1</strong><br />According to a recent study by J. J. Keller & Associates Inc., a provider of risk and regulatory management, 80 percent of respondents said their company provides some kind of discrimination and harassment training. </p><p>Almost half (47 percent) of those same respondents, however, also stated that workplace banter is close to crossing the line to offensive, and potentially unlawful, conduct.<br /><br />&ldquo;These statistics suggest that while most businesses are attempting to prevent workplace discrimination, they are not necessarily successful,&rdquo; said Edwin Zalewski, J. J. Keller & Associates human resources subject-matter expert. &ldquo;Unfortunately, failure to prevent workplace discrimination can result in low morale, high turnover and expensive legal headaches.&rdquo;<br /><br />Zalewski cautions employers not to make these common mistakes when addressing workplace discrimination.</p><ul><li><strong>Mistake No. 1: Create a written policy without communicating it</strong></li></ul><p>HR 101 teaches us to have a written policy in place. &ldquo;And you should,&rdquo; Zalewski said. &ldquo;However, it shouldn&rsquo;t end there. A policy is useless if employees aren&rsquo;t aware of it, and a procedure for reporting complaints of discrimination is useless if the contact people are not readily accessible to employees. Everyone must understand their rights and responsibilities under the policy, and they must know what steps to take.&rdquo;<br /></p><ul><li><strong>Mistake No. 2: Provide only basic discrimination training</strong></li></ul><p>&ldquo;Showing employees a video outlining a variety of harassment and discrimination scenarios allows viewers to recognize inappropriate behavior, but it simply is not enough,&rdquo; Zalewski said. In addition, he suggests employers concentrate on effective training. This can be done by focusing on each person&rsquo;s accountability. For the employee, it might stress the importance of reporting offensive conduct, and for the supervisor, it might stress their duty to take quick action.<br /></p><ul><li><strong>Mistake No. 3: Failure to address retaliation</strong></li></ul><p>Zalewski said fear of retaliation is the most common reason employees give for failure to report discrimination. They fear retaliation from co-workers, or in cases where a supervisor is the offender, they might fear management will believe only the supervisor. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not enough for the policy and training to state that retaliation won&rsquo;t be tolerated,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;The actions in addressing offensive behavior must show that the company is serious about eliminating such conduct in the workplace and is serious about protecting employees.&rdquo;<br /><br />In the ideal situation, as presented by Zalewski, employees who feel they are the victim of harassment or discrimination simply confront the offenders and tells them that the conduct is not welcome. </p><p>&ldquo;Most often, this doesn&rsquo;t happen because the employee is offended and doesn&rsquo;t know what to say,&rdquo; Zalewski said. &ldquo;With any luck &mdash; and some good training &mdash; the employee who is uncomfortable with confrontation will feel confident enough to bring the issue to a supervisor&rsquo;s attention. Then, it&rsquo;s up to the supervisor to know how to respond and be aware of the consequences of handling it improperly.&rdquo;<br /><br />Zalewski recommended training incorporate role-playing so supervisors and employees gain experience in knowing what to say and what not to say. </p><p>&ldquo;Role-play may feel uncomfortable, but if you can&rsquo;t handle it during training, how much better will you do when it&rsquo;s for real?&rdquo; he said.</p>

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