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Anti-discrimination laws and your Arizona business

If you're a small business owner in Tempe -- or many other places in Arizona -- you need to be conscious of the local laws in place designed to stop discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity.

Tempe has had an anti-discrimination ordinance in place since 2014 that provides such protections. Ordinances like the one in Tempe have been challenged in numerous states, including Arizona, by some business owners.

While those business owners have decided to engage in a costly and protracted legal battle as a matter of principle, most small business owners would prefer to avoid legal problems whenever possible. Since both federal and local laws prohibit various forms of discrimination, here are some tips that can help keep you avoid discrimination lawsuits:

1. Make it clear to your staff that you don't discriminate.

Even if you would never think of discriminating against a customer based on gender identity or sexual orientation, that doesn't mean all your employees feel the same.

Be proactive about making your employees aware that your business does not discriminate. Have a written anti-discrimination policy that all employees are required to read and sign. Include language in your anti-discrimination policy related to gay and transgender people.

2. Don't tolerate jokes or stereotyping.

If you discover that an employee has made inappropriate "jokes" or comments that stereotype customers or co-workers based on gender identity, sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic, take action.

Discuss the comments promptly with the employee involved and issue a verbal warning after the first incident. Make it clear that any further incidents will be treated seriously according to your company's policy.

3. Give your customers the ability to talk to you.

Encouraging customers to give you feedback and discuss instances of bias or discrimination can go a long way toward preventing a lawsuit. Often lawsuits get filed because that's the only way a victim can get anyone in authority to pay attention to their complaints.

Protecting your business from legal problems involving discrimination can be a complicated task. An experienced attorney can often help business owners develop company policies and handbooks with that goal in mind, so don't hesitate to seek support.

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