Harassment and Discrimination-Free Veterinary Workplace

Comment on this policy

Preface

The following policy is intended as a starting point for member veterinarians, not as a definitive statement of the law concerning harassment and discrimination. Anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws may differ greatly from state-to-state and from city-to-city. (Federal, state and local laws prohibit harassment and discrimination based on an individual's protected class such as race, color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, marital or parental status, or disability). Other categories such as unfavorable discharge from military service may be protected under state and/or local law, depending upon the location of a practice. Moreover, depending on the size of a practice and/or the affiliation of a practice with public entities, these laws may or may not apply to that practice. Each practice, therefore, should consult an attorney who is knowledgeable in employment law in its jurisdiction, to determine which federal, state, and local laws apply before adopting this policy, or any employment policy.

 

Establishing a policy assures individuals in the workplace that the organization is committed to preventing harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Management has a responsibility to address complaints of harassment or discrimination in the workplace, as well as complaints of harassment or discrimination between staff members and other outside parties doing business with a practice (e.g. contractors, vendors, or clients). This policy on harassment and discrimination is intended as a guide for management in the veterinary workplace or setting to provide an internal mechanism for potential resolution of a complaint and to assist in avoiding litigation. In addition, having an established harassment and discrimination policy that is well written and well communicated to staff will aid in the defense of any external legal claims. This is why it is so important to consult an attorney who is knowledgeable about the employment laws in the practice's area for specific guidance and legal advice.

Purpose

The policy should help employees understand and recognize harassment and discrimination, and how to deal with it appropriately. The policy should address what employees need to know about harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. The organization's policy should be clearly communicated so that employees know how to comply.

Policy Elements

A policy regarding harassment and discrimination should set forth the organization's strong commitment to maintaining a work environment where employees are treated with dignity and respect, and where harassment and discrimination are not tolerated. The policy should clearly describe all individuals that are covered by the policy and the range of consequences for violating the policy, such as disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment. To the extent possible, the policy should set forth each of the categories protected by the discrimination laws applicable in the practice's state and locality.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a common form of harassment and discrimination. Therefore, the policy should clearly describe the type of conduct that is in violation of the policy, which may include a broader range of conduct than is actually unlawful in order to make the workplace more comfortable. Employees should also be informed that the policy extends beyond the workplace to other work-related settings, such as business trips, meetings, and business-related social events. Employees should also be informed that harassment based on other protected categories, such as age or race, is equally prohibited by the policy.

 

Procedure for Filing a Complaint of Harassment or Discrimination

The organization's policy should clearly outline the procedure for employees to file a complaint of harassment or discrimination. Employees should be informed about the process that will ensue after a complaint is filed so that they know what to expect, including setting the expectation of privacy and confidentiality.

Retaliation

The policy should inform employees that retaliation will not be tolerated. Retaliation can come from the organization or from individuals, and can be directed at the person that made the complaint or individuals who participated in the investigation.

Policy Implementation

  • In addition to having a member of management as the designated staff member to whom complaints of harassment and/or discrimination are to be made, it is important that staff members have an alternate designated staff member(s) to report complaints to in the event the primary contact is identified as the source of harassment.
  • Staff members should sign an acknowledgement and receipt form when they receive a copy of the written policy.
  • In addition to the written policy, staff should also receive meaningful training on the policy, and their rights and responsibilities under the policy. This will also assist in the defense of any outside legal claims.
  • All members of the management staff should be advised that they are accountable for the effective administration of this policy and that they may have personal liability for failure to adhere to the policy.
  • Once a complaint is received, a fair and impartial investigation of the complaint should begin immediately. These investigations should be conducted as confidentially as possible, on a need-to-know basis. The employee filing the complaint should be interviewed in confidence, as well as the individual(s) against whom the complaint has been filed. Any witnesses to the alleged harassment should also be interviewed in confidence if necessary. The investigation and the results should be fully documented in writing.
  • Once the investigation has been completed, if the charge is found to have merit, appropriate disciplinary action should be taken against the employee who violated the policy, up to and including immediate termination of employment based on the severity of the infraction. It is important that disciplinary actions be applied in a consistent manner, and that they are sufficient to stop the harassment and to prevent its recurrence.