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Don’t write wishy-washy policies that make it hard for staff to comply

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Your employment policies should never leave employees guessing about how they must comply.

That's why it's vital to use concrete terms in your policies that discuss employee behaviors and performance, not vague statements that have multiple meanings (such as requiring employees to "respect each others' difference").

Also, when employees object to a policy on religious grounds, take the complaint seriously. Consider whether their accommodation request creates an "undue hardship." If it doesn't, you must figure a way to accommodate. Courts will judge your actions by looking at whether you genuinely tried to solve the problem.

Recent case: Albert Buonanno objected to language in his company's diversity policy. It required employees to sign an acknowledgment form saying they "fully recognize, respect and value the differences among all of us," including sexual orientation of employees.

Buonanno was willing to pledge not to discriminate against or harass anyone, but said he couldn't sign the policy because of religious beliefs about homosexuality. He requested that the company "work around" the requirement that he sign the form. But the company said, "Sign or be fired." He refused and the company fired him.

He sued, alleging religious discrimination and won. Reason: The company failed to show it would have suffered an "undue hardship" by accommodating his religious beliefs. In fact, it never even considered his request.

Plus, the policy's vague wording made it difficult to know how to comply. Five corporate officers testified about the policy's language, but none of them shared a common understanding of what it actually required of employees. (Buonanno v. AT&T Broadband LLC, No. 02-MK-0778, USDC, Colo., 2004)

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