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Inclusion policies in the workplace

| | Vistage Worldwide
Inclusion policies in the workplace

Originally published on Vistage Research Center

For years, we have all heard about the importance of diversity in the workplace. It has become well known that diversity can increase revenue for businesses, helps with recruitment, and improves workplace culture. But, at the end of the day do you know what that means for your business? If not, then you may be missing out on a broader and more powerful movement when it comes to diversity: inclusion policies in the workplace.

As pointed out by widely known contributor to Forbes magazine, Paolo Gaudiano, inclusivity LEADS to diversity in the workplace. ‘You should focus on achieving inclusion, and track diversity as a measure of your success.’

You should focus on achieving inclusion, and track diversity as a measure of your success.

Paolo Gaudiano

In other words, just having diversity alone is not enough for businesses to reach their maximum potential. Ultimately, while diversity may be the end goal, inclusion is the means to that end. It is well known, particularly for many Vistage members, that every employee has the opportunity to be more productive if he or she feels included in the work and ultimate vision of the business. Why? Because while diversity gives people a seat at the table, inclusion means they are more invested because they helped build the table.

Inclusion policies in the workplace should not only include parameters and areas of non-discrimination, but should also provide a reporting hierarchy for employees to have a ‘safe zone” for complaints of real or perceived discrimination. That can be a supervisor or someone in human resources if the employee is hesitant to talk to, or uncomfortable with, the actions of his or her supervisor.

Legal benefit

In addition to the day-to-day benefits, businesses provide themselves with legal protection by having and adhering to inclusion policies. If a charge or lawsuit is filed against an employer for hostile work environment, such as harassment, the employer’s defense includes the following:

  1. No tangible adverse employment action was taken against the complaining employee;
  2. The employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct the harassing behavior; and
  3. The employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunity provided by the employer.

See Faragher V. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998) and Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998).

Inclusion policies can play a huge role regarding item 3 above and can help with item 2 above. With regards to item 3, the inclusion policies should provide communication and remedial paths for employees when inappropriate actions are perceived. The failure to pursue such remedies by employees can be used by employers to avoid liability with the exception of direct supervisors under certain circumstances. Even under those circumstances, having proper communication and remedial paths spelled out for employees demonstrates the employer’s efforts to prevent such behavior. Regarding item 2 above, the policies themselves along with any training can serve as reasonable care by the employer to prevent and correct behavior.

Another legal benefit is that inclusion policies give power to employers to take action to terminate, suspend or punish offending employees.

In addition to the legal protections above, inclusion policies in the workplace benefit your business by helping to foster morale among employees and provide comfort that management will stand on an employee’s side if any discrimination arises. Further, inclusion policies bolster state and federal law and serve as a reminder to employees of their obligations as well.

Where do you start with your new inclusion policy?

1. Identify YOUR business inclusion policy

Depending on your industry, it may not be a one size fits all policy. Now is a great time to consult with your HR professional and an experienced attorney to ensure that your policy is right for your business. If you don’t have an HR professional or attorney, a good place to start is the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) website. You can find their sample diversity and inclusion policy here.

2. Add your inclusion policy to your employee handbooks

These handbooks form a condition of employment and a way to influence the behavior of employees. Making such policies a part of the Employee Handbook will not only serve as a caution to employees, but also outline the possible remedies and safe harbors of those who may become the subject of any violation of those policies.

3. Update your business website

Employee Handbooks and your website set the tone not only on how the business is run but also for demonstrating where management stands with its culture and employees. Make it clear that the business promotes an environment of inclusivity regarding, at a minimum, gender, race, national origin, disability, age, religion, marital status and sexual orientation. More recent inclusivity policies, such as the Office of Solicitor in the United States Department of Labor, include gender identification, political affiliation, language, veteran status, family structure, socio-economic status and geographical background. Another business benefit, especially on websites and in recruiting materials, is that it helps cast a wider net for talent. Attracting talent of all types helps a business broaden its reach and makes the business more attractive to talented people who may be worried about certain work atmospheres. Having more candidates gives a business a leg up on its competition and makes hiring more competitive. With more candidates to choose from, business leaders can pick the best of the best for its needs.

All in all, inclusion policies are better than just seeking diversity and can play important roles in recruiting, fostering better work environments and providing legal protection.

If you’re interested in reading more on inclusivity, including real-life examples from companies who have accomplished it, we’ve complied the following resources. Please note these are just a few of many resources available to you.


About the author: 

Attorney Russ A. Brinson practices at Sodoma Law in the area of business litigation and employment law, providing litigation and counseling services to a wide variety of individuals and businesses. He has spoken at various events on employment law, non-compete agreements and construction defects. He is a superior court mediator and received his J.D. from Wake Forest University School of Law.

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