The Michigan Department of Civil Rights has sent a clear message to business owners: Sexual orientation and gender identity are protected against discrimination in the workforce.
The meaning of the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act has been the subject of hot dispute ever since the state’s attorney general and the Michigan Civil Rights Commission have publicly been at odds over it — and there’s no sign that the controversy will have a quick ending. In the meantime, business owners would be best served to treat the interpretation being used by the state agency as fact if they want to avoid legal action and lawsuits based on discrimination.
What does this mean for small business owners?
1. It’s time to update your employee handbook
Far too often, employee handbooks get created and then somewhat neglected. Businesses fail to update them properly, relying instead on memorandums and notices posted on announcement boards and emails to the staff over time. That’s a dangerous practice.
If it has been a while since your employee handbook has had an overhaul, it could be seriously outdated.
2. You need to educate your managers
A company’s culture starts at the top and works its way down. You want to foster an atmosphere of acceptance and inclusiveness that simply won’t permit intolerance or harassment against noncisgender and homosexual employees. Having your managers on the same page can also better insulate you from allegations of discrimination as a company.
3. You need a procedure for investigating complaints
While it’s important to give the accused a fair hearing and a chance to offer a defense, you need to have a procedure in place for dealing with claims of harassment or discrimination involving an employee’s gender identity or sexual orientation. If a complaint reaches the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, you want to be able to show that you took appropriate action.
A consultation with a business law attorney can help you update your company handbook and overhaul your policies to make sure that they take into account the current federal, state and local laws. Our firm can handle all your business needs.