Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Confronting workplace discrimination – Part 2: developing and setting standards

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on March 28, 2011

This is my second installment in a series that I am posting in direct response to a reader comment (see Confronting Workplace Discrimination – Part 1: a multi-facetted challenge.) I start this posting by noting a point that should already be clear, that while I have business experience I am not an attorney. I repeat here a point I have made several times in this posting – any well run business has and listens to legal council as an available resource, and certainly for issues such as possible workplace discrimination challenges that can so quickly become legal issues. That said, I share in this series from my organizational and business experience and from advice I have learned from legal council. And my goal in this series installment is to at least briefly discuss what may be the most important single point that I could make on this issue, and it is one where I have seen real problems develop for getting it wrong.

• Effective workplace discrimination response is only possible when it is build on a framework of established workplace policy that is clearly articulated and that includes clear, consistent mechanisms for safe reporting and unbiased follow-through.

Ad hoc is a route to disaster here, and so is set policy that in practice is not followed. I posted a brief case study approximately a year ago outlining a situation I observed where rules and procedures were set but violated and I recommend that you review that as important to this issue and this series (see Human Resources and the due Diligence of Workplace Discrimination Threats.) And I note here that the specific incident I developed that case study around involved a senior member of an established organization’s Human Resources department violating the very rules and procedures that she spoke of when giving new employee orientations. When this is done correctly, a whole chain of participants have to handle this consistently with policy. When this is done badly all it takes is for one person to really get it wrong.

• This means recognizing and correctly responding to potential workplace discrimination has to be a firmly held core business or organizational policy and one that does not allow for exceptions.
• It has to be a policy that all employees are required to follow, and with serious consequences as to their continued employment if violated – exactly as would be the case for issues such as employee theft or other criminal activity.

And policy should be drafted and followed with a goal of being:

• Consistent,
• Fair,
• Open and transparent as to procedures and resources, and
• Clearly and overtly consistent with all relevant laws in place (e.g. the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States for possible instances of workplace discrimination against people with disabilities and/or other relevant legal statutes.)

I have already touched on the issues of informing employees as to policy and options for reporting possible workplace discrimination and that is important. In the balance of this posting I want to discuss the other side of this, equally important for making workplace discrimination policy work.

• There have to be mechanisms for developing and updating this policy in the face of ongoing case law,
• For keeping managers at all levels informed as to current policy and procedures and about any changes or updates in them, and
• For providing managers and supervisors at all levels with the resources they need to follow policy for specific cases or events they may encounter.
• And this has to be set up and managed in a clear and consistent manner too, and according to established process and procedures.

As a matter of ongoing policy and practice:

• Consistent with strategic policy and planning, Human Resources should have access to legal council in developing and maintaining basic policy.
• They should share information and information resources throughout the table of organization as part of their role in managing personnel issues and responsibilities.
• This should be a standard part of management and supervisory in-house training with updates as required.
• Managers need to know who to turn to if they have questions, and either about issues they face directly or about situations they may observe.
• And managers and employees should be able to report, discuss or ask questions about possible incidents or situations of concern with confidentiality and even if that means having access to third party resources so as to limit perceived conflict of interest concerns. No one should be afraid to speak up or to enquire as to their rights because someone higher then them on the table of organization might hear of this.

My goal in this posting has been to outline a basic policy and practice approach. I am going to turn to the issue of responding to violations of policy and to possible violations of it in my next posting in this series. And this is where the issues of workplace discrimination become complex, as possible incidents are not always clear-cut and simple and fairness and best approaches may not always be immediately obvious in the real world of day to day workplace experience.

This series and a number of relevant postings can be found in my general directory listing, HR and Personnel and also see Business Strategy and Operations.

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