Respect in the Workplace Policies: An Employer’s Starting Point for DEIB Initiatives

Employers often state that promoting DEIB initiatives is a top priority, and they ask us how best to improve on the start they’ve made (or how to get on board in a meaningful way for the first time). For those less versed in this space, DEIB stands for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. The ‘belonging’ component is a more recent addition to the acronym. According to Gallup, in a ‘culture of belonging’ employees are appreciated for what they bring to the group, there is a genuine desire for meaningful relationships, and there is an appreciation for the differences between people. In addition to leading to a happier workplace, it’s no surprise that fostering a culture of belonging makes good business sense. Gallup found that if more employees believed that their opinions counted, “organizations could reduce turnover by as much as 27%, safety incidents by 40%, and increase productivity by 12%.”

A growing community of recruitment and HR professionals and consultants are promoting and advancing  DEIB initiatives by sharing innovative tools and resources – e.g. AI communication coaching providing private, judgment-free feedback on our unconscious biases (we have them!); quizzes or surveys to assess whether we understand and how we perceive the concept of belonging at work; DEIB courses on having a more productive dialogue about diversity; roadmaps for highly engaged employee resource groups (ERGs), and so on. While there is a loooong way to go, the growth in this space is impressive. 

Up-to-date policies that employees sign off on (meaning they presumably read them) can help reduce discord in the workplace, effectively address complaints, and reduce the risk of litigation and legal fees. Sounds very lawyerly, we know. While policies may be viewed as a bunch of workplace rules, starting with a commitment to DEIB kicks them off on a more positive note. Consolidating both mandatory and recommended policies under a broader Respect in the Workplace umbrella is an effective place for an employer to introduce or bolster its commitment to DEIB. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) requires that workplace violence and harassment policies be reviewed annually, and sets out minimum requirements. Why not weave in your DEIB commitment during your next policy review? 

The following non-exhaustive list combines mandatory policy requirements in Ontario with practical suggestions for your workplace’s Respect in the Workplace Policy and program (read more about employer duties here: Ontario Ministry of Labour – Preventing Workplace Violence and Workplace Harassment

  1. Statement of Commitment to a Respectful Workplace and DEIB Principles: Authentic introductory statements by senior management about the employer’s commitment to DEIB principles is an effective start to a broader Respect in the Workplace policy addressing workplace harassment and sexual harassment, workplace violence and discrimination. As the workplace’s DEIB initiatives evolve, this content can be updated annually.
  2. Clear Definitions and Examples: The policy should clearly define what constitutes the misconduct it addresses (e.g. harassment and sexual harassment, discrimination and workplace violence), and provide specific examples to help employees understand what is unacceptable behaviour. A statement from senior management should express zero tolerance for any form of harassment, workplace violence or discrimination.
  3. Reporting Procedures: The policy must address what happens when these principles are not upheld by detailing the procedures for reporting incidents, including the option to bypass the immediate supervisor if the complaint is about their behaviour. The procedure should also ensure that complaints can be made without fear of retaliation or reprisal.
  4. Investigation Procedures: The policy should outline how an investigation that is ‘appropriate in the circumstances’ (the OHSA standard) will be conducted, including timelines, the level of confidentiality that is practicable under the circumstances, and the rights of those involved. Policies should demonstrate a procedurally fair and consistent process, however, it should provide flexibility to the employer to conduct an appropriate (internal or external) investigation. Employers must follow their policies when addressing complaints or incidents, therefore they should be cautious not to over-commit or constraint themselves in their policies.
  5. Remedial Measures: The policy should inform employees that discipline up to and including termination may be warranted where a complaint is substantiated or partially substantiated. It might also detail any support available for those involved, such as counselling or other resources.
  6. Training and Awareness: The policy should address the organization’s commitment to providing training and raising awareness about harassment and sexual harassment, workplace violence, discrimination, DEIB principles, and the policy itself.
  7. Regular Review: The policy must be reviewed at least annually, or whenever there is a significant change in the organization, to ensure it remains relevant and effective. To test the efficacy of a policy, those administering it should envision a fictitious complaint and apply the steps required by their policy. This often leads to necessary revisions and changes in the process. Testing whether the terms of a policy will guide the employer and the parties through an effective and procedurally fair process is of course best addressed before an actual complaint or incident occurs.  

For help with introducing or levelling up your organization’s commitment to DEIB initiatives, or drafting or updating your workplace’s Respect in the Workplace Policy and program, get in touch. 

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