Tools for Building a Positive Employee Relations Environment

Posted by: kevensteinberg
Category: Blog, Employment Law
Policies and Procedures are tools for positive employee relations

Cultural forces are prompting the re-examination of employment policies and for employers to re-evaluate their approaches to employee interactions, hiring considerations, risk management, employee training, and reporting procedures. Against this backdrop, employers are concerned about operating their businesses in a non-discriminatory manner and treating their employees fairly and with respect. These inquiries provide an opportunity for organizations to re-evaluate their current employee policies to create proactive cultural vigilance, not only to stay legally compliant but also to rise above no longer tolerated biases. 

An employee handbook provides guidance, protections, and protocols that instill, promote, and mold a proper and non-discriminatory work environment. A proactive employee handbook standardizes procedures, explicitly outlines best practices for systems and tools, reflects the  mission and values of your business, and empowers both employers and employees to create a positive and non-discriminatory workplace.

If drafted correctly and updated regularly to comply with ever-changing laws and social issues, an employee handbook is a document that can add incredible value and protection and promote a healthy work culture during difficult times. 

Critical Updates to Your Employee Handbook

There have been many recent lessons in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the killing of George Floyd, and the Supreme Court’s recent decision to prohibit sex and sexual preference discrimination. For companies, one of the largest lessons in regard to non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies has been that businesses can no longer passively follow protocol, but must instead, actively instill fair, legally compliant, and non-discriminatory practices.

In light of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) workers, over the next year we will see an increasing focus in regard to transgender rights. Employers must now understand and actively implement, administer, and enforce protections for all employees no matter their gender or sexual preference.

These issues have increasingly more significant legal implications as societal norms are re-adjusted and legal rights are expanded. When aligned with societal, legal, and organizational values, proper processes are put in place in these areas to keep your business legally and socially compliant and establish a workplace in which your employees will feel safe and secure.

Updated Anti-Discrimination Policies

SHRM advises that employers review their benefits programs to ensure that LGBTQ employees are treated equally. Recommended benefit items include a three-step checklist. 

  1. Reviewing benefits plans
  2. Revising discriminatory policies
  3. Looking broadly for bias

These steps are necessary so that benefits are equally administered to same-sex partners in a non-discriminatory fashion and include coverage of gender-affirmation surgeries and considerations for family planning for same-sex couples. 

Additionally, employees are expecting employers to speak out and create change around race discrimination in the workplace. The wave of uprisings across the nation have made it clear that police brutality and systemic racism is disproportionately affecting Black Americans and other minorities. Many businesses have sought to distance themselves through public statements and increased company dialogue. 

However, Americans are acutely aware of the difference between lip service and meaningful action. Harvard Business Review spent time listening to Black employees within several companies. What emerged was a common theme that there was a grave disconnect between a company’s attitude, mission statement and social commitments and how these companies truly operate and function as well as the employee experience. 

Harvard Business Review recommends actionable commitments for your organization: 

  1. Be open to dialogue without being defensive 
  2. Get specific about internal and external commitments
  3. Address topics of discomfort and continue to stay engaged
  4. Be accountable with specific goals to eradicate discrimination

California Anti-Discrimination Updates for 2020

Two California-specific anti-discrimination updates in 2020 affect gender and race inequity in the workplace. California employers should be aware of these two updated Senate Bills and make adjustments to their employee handbooks accordingly. 

80% of Black women feel like they have to change their natural hair to fit in at their office. In order to prevent this racial discrimination, SB188 (also known as the CROWN [Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair] Act) made California the first state to ban racial discrimination based on a person’s natural hair. This means that employers may not discriminate based on “racial hairstyles” including (but not limited to) texture and “protective hairstyles,” including styles such as braids, locks, and twists. 

In regard to employee equity in 2020, California employee handbooks should be expanded to include SB142, which adds to lactation-accommodation requirements. SB142 requires that employers provide a safe and comfortable lactation space at work. Requirements in these spaces address cleanliness, seating, electrical access, and access to refrigeration. That means that a restroom or utility closet is no longer considered a suitable lactation facility. SB142 is especially detailed in regard to lactation facilities in new construction and should be consulted if your workplace is undergoing changes. 

Discrimination practices such as these should be actively evaluated and clearly outlined in complaint protocol that should be regularly updated in employee handbooks. This is critical for organizational culture as well as mitigating legal liability. To stay vigilant and write detailed procedures, attain legal counsel with a comprehensive knowledge of federal and state discrimination laws. Laws do vary state by state, so handbooks should be customized to fit state laws into employers’ policies and practices. 

Now more than ever, companies must build and maintain cultures that embody their values and that drive strong social presence and business performance. This type of environment creates a workplace with the foundation to withstand today’s volatile legal parameters and business restrictions.

By becoming vigilant, businesses can and should eradicate whatever social and legal vulnerabilities they may have, not only to mitigate crises and legal liabilities, but also to propel themselves to the forefront of being a model business for which to work. 

To help guide you to this plateau, Steinberg Law has over 30 years of labor, employment, and business law experience. Reach out to us to assist your efforts to become not only legally compliant, but also to promote your business’s active efforts to be on the forefront of new and expanding social norms.

Author: kevensteinberg