Written Policies Are Important When Refuting Discrimination Charges

Seventeen employees at an Iowa chain restaurant recently staged an organized walk-out to protest their manager's alleged discriminatory conduct.

One employee complained that the manager heard a guest use a racial epithet to describe workers and other guests and ignored it. Other employees claimed they heard the manager use racist words and order a cook to remove a t-shirt that read "I Can't Breathe".

According to the restaurant's director of marketing, the employer investigated the allegations of discrimination and determined that some, but not all, of the charges against the manager were without merit. For example, the manager was following company policy by requiring the cook to remove the "I Can't Breathe" t-shirt. The policy prohibited any t-shirts with writing on them.

The walk-out reportedly led to the manager's termination. The owners of the restaurant confirmed that the restaurant had closed because of the protest but did not comment on the manager's alleged termination. Amie Rivers "UPDATE: Cedar Falls Applebees employees walk off job, cite manager's racist behavior" wcfcourier.com (Jun. 20, 2020).

Commentary and Checklist

In the above matter, one of the allegations involved racism because the manager asked an employee to remove a shirt with "I Can't Breathe" on it. Because there was a policy against shirts with writing, the manager was able to point to the policy as the reason for requiring the employee to remove the shirt - thereby deflecting the charge of racism.

It is important to periodically audit your policies toward your staff with your legal counsel to make sure they are up-to-date and effective, including policies regarding appearance.

Train staff to report concerns they have with your policies through your reporting mechanism. Investigate charges of illegal or unfair polices as you would other reports of wrongdoing. Take remedial action by correcting any unjust policies and training all staff on the changes.

Here are some general tips to help prevent discrimination that you should include in your written policies:

·      Prohibit employment decisions based on race, age, color, religion, gender, disability, national origin, or other protected class status.

·      Provide all staff with equal access to promotions, training, and benefits.

·      Prohibit teasing, hate symbols, and other forms of harassment.

·      Require managers to consider all requests for reasonable accommodation using the interactive process.

·      Require hiring managers to make decisions based on unbiased criteria rather than subjective beliefs.

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