Providing equal opportunity in the workplace isn't just a nice thing to do; it's the law. Statutes from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibit workplace discrimination and harassment. That means everyone at all levels of management must know the laws and understand them. But understanding the laws won't keep you out of court; you also need to put the right policies in place. What follows are five commandments for complying with the equal opportunity laws:
1. Thou shalt treat everyone with dignity and respect. Always choose your words carefully. Steer clear of personal attacks or derogatory expressions. Treat your staff members as you would want to be treated. If you're no longer impressed with their performance, reassign them or fire them.You're not doing yourself (or your company) any favors by putting up with less than acceptable performance and resenting it.
2. Thou shalt treat everyone equally and fairly. Keep in mind that every time you make an exception to the rule, it becomes a precedent. This includes sparing someone from disciplinary action and other similar decisions that could be interpreted as favoritism. Letting someone who has violated company policy off without any consequences undermines your other employees' morale.
3. Thou shalt keep good records. Yes, it's difficult to document personnel issues, especially those that deteriorate into ongoing dramas.Yet you must keep good records noting the time, date and details of any significant event or discussion. It's better to err on the side of caution; you can always throw the papers away later if you don't need them. But backtracking can be almost impossible if you later need to document why you're denying a raise or promotion to someone with a long history of missed deadlines or poor performance. In addition, documentation of incidents like altercations could provide valuable support for your defense if the staff member lodges a complaint against you.
4. Thou shalt respond appropriately and investigate. Take all complaints seriously. For every employee who speaks up about abuse or hostility, there are easily 10 others who are grumbling under their breath. Appreciate how difficult it is for an employee to come forward, and give him or her credit for trying to make the workplace better.
Also, as a manager, maintaining a sense of compassion and empathy is a must. Just because you might not be bothered by a thoughtless remark or action doesn't mean another person will not or should not find it hurtful. This principle also applies when someone comes to you with a complaint about unacceptable treatment. It matters not what you consider unacceptable treatment—all that counts is what that staff member considers unacceptable (and your company's code of professional conduct). Very often it's the staff member who feels that the manager brushed off his or her grievance who seeks legal recourse.
5. Thou shalt not retaliate. Revenge is childish and unprofessional. If you've been reprimanded for mishandling a situation, take your punishment and direct your energy toward learning corrective behaviors (or finding a new job). If you were wrongfully accused, you have lots of decisions to make.However, none of them should be about how to get back at the finger-pointer. Believe it or not, it will not make you feel better. The workplace is not the place to seek vengeance.