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What should workers look for in the employee handbook?

You probably already know that your employer must provide you with a work environment free from discrimination, harassment and retaliation under both federal and California law. You may know that you do not have to put up with these types of behaviors from coworkers, supervisors, managers and even third parties from outside the company.

However, what you may not know is how seriously your employer takes its commitment to providing you with a hostility-free workplace. One of the best places to make that determination is by carefully reviewing your employee handbook. If your employer didn't provide you with one, you may want to ask to see one since it is often used as the first line of defense for a company against any claim you may file involving discrimination, retaliation and harassment.

What kinds of policies and procedures to look for

As you peruse your employee handbook, you may want to look for and scrutinize the following policies:

  • It should contain a statement prohibiting discrimination, along with as many examples as possible regarding what constitutes discriminatory behavior.
  • It should include a statement prohibiting harassment, along with as many examples as possible regarding what constitutes the prohibited behavior.
  • How employees report discriminatory behavior, including the personnel responsible for taking those complaints.
  • What the law requires of your superiors and the personnel responsible for investigating your complaints.
  • The procedures your superiors must follow as they investigate your claim.
  • It should contain a statement regarding protecting your confidentiality when coming forward to make a complaint.
  • The handbook should outline any potential corrective actions available.
  • The handbook should include the potential consequences to anyone violating the policy.
  • It should contain a policy regarding reasonable accommodations for religious reason, medical conditions and disabilities, along with examples of such accommodations.
  • It should tell you what information you would need to provide if you require an accommodation.
  • It should state that your superiors would handle your request in a timely manner and provide you with a temporary accommodation if needed.
  • It should include a prohibition against any form of retaliation for your coming forward with a complaint of discrimination or harassment.

Your employer should also explain the leave policy in detail. If you need time off due to medical or religious reasons, the law protects your right to it.

If you do end up needing to make a discrimination, harassment or retaliation complaint, your first steps would probably include complying with your employer's policies as outlined in the employee handbook. However, that does not mean that you cannot seek out an explanation of your rights under federal and state law, along with any legal options you may have, if the issue is not resolved to your satisfaction.

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