The fundamental aim of EEO is to treat everyone fairly and give them an even playing field when it comes to employment. For example, this can include fairness in hiring, promoting, suspending, training, rewarding, paying, or terminating employees. By giving everyone a fair shot, the company can ensure that no individual faces difficulties because they are part of a protected group. There are benefits to your company from implementing an EEO policy that will be outlined below.
The primary objective of every EEO policy should be to prevent employers from using certain protected characteristics to judge employees or potential employees. Companies should also go further to prevent discrimination that arises from any such protected characteristic. Protected characteristics can vary by country, but they are usually similar in most countries. Typical protected characteristics include:
- Religious views
- Sex, gender, or sexual orientation
- Marital status
In many countries – such as the US and the UK – EEO is not an optional policy but rather, it is a rule that must be implemented and followed. Failure to follow such laws can lead to charges against your company, fines, and civil lawsuits.
You should also check out this Tedx Talk by Laura Bogardus on why companies should go beyond EEO.
Creation of EEO and the Legal Background (US)
The creation of EEO was officially cemented in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, the seeds were planted with the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which introduced the idea of equality in the workplace and equal pay for equal work (initially only between men and women). Title VII specifically banned employment discrimination based on a protected characteristic in any part or process of employment.
While the 1964 Act only limited discrimination based on a few protected characteristics, later acts expanded and added onto the list of protected characteristics to add things such as disabilities, age, and maternity to the list. Recently, in 2020, the Supreme Court held that sex discrimination protection within EEO includes sexual orientation and gender identity. These changes have been made frequently ever since the inception of the 1964 Act. Therefore, it is important that companies keep up to date with changes and keep on top of enacting them.
The 1964 Act also created another thing of importance to you – the EEOC. They are the authority that monitors and adjudicates all matters relating to EEO and equality at the workplace. The next section will explore their role further.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing all federal laws on discrimination at the workplace – this includes EEO and equal pay. The EEOC is applicable to most employers, unions, and agencies that have over 15 employees.
The EEOC will fairly investigate all cases of discrimination that are reported to it and arrive at a conclusion. Where it finds that discrimination has occurred, it will endeavor to settle the charge with the employer. If it fails to do so, then it has the ability to file a lawsuit against the employer and litigate the case in court.
In 2019, the largest number of charges filed with the EEOC was for retaliation by an employer (39,110 charges), whereas the least charges were for discrimination owing to genetic information (only 209 charges). This is similar to the 2018 fiscal year where retaliation remained the most charged offense. f
The EEOC also acts to provide information, guidance, leadership to other federal agencies on all matters EEO. Furthermore, the EEOC is also in charge of ensuring that all federal agencies adhere to EEO rules.
The EEOC has its headquarters in Washington D.C. but it operates through 53 field offices. You can find your nearest one here.
Resolving a Charge
If your company has a charge filed against it by the EEOC, then you have a few options when trying to resolve it. However, note that before embarking upon any particular route, your company should take independent legal advice and secure legal representation as the best option for the company may not be the one that sounds best.
At times, these forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) are mandatory in resolving charges or findings of discrimination. They are low-cost alternatives to litigation and can be performed prior to a lawsuit being filed to settle the matter out of court. The advantages of ADR are that it is quick (relative to litigation), efficient, confidential, informal, and enforceable. All the while, the parties have full control of the process meaning that they can choose the mediator, the location, and the structure of the process. Using ADR to resolve the charge can be very cost-effective for your company. Additionally, it allows the company to maintain its brand reputation as the process and the result is confidential.
Any charge filed by the EEOC can be settled at any time – the objective of the EEOC is to fairly investigate and charge claims, not to litigate every case. Settling allows your company to avoid lengthy litigation and stops your company from having to pay for legal costs at court. In addition, it allows the company to escape admitting liability which can be very beneficial if the business depends on its brand reputation.
Litigation is the process of going to a court of law to have a third-party judge the merits of your case. Litigation is at times unpredictable as your position may not be as strong as you think. Additionally, it can require a lot of resources to battle a drawn-out lawsuit. However, its key benefit lies in the fact that it is public, and if your company wins, then it will act as a positive endorsement /advertisement for the company.
Benefits of Equal Employment to Your Company
While providing EEO is mandatory by law, it is also important to remember that EEO has other benefits for your business. Some of these will be outlined below.
Increased Staff Retention
EEO allows for employees to feel valued, welcomed, and respected. This increases the chance that they stay on with your company and will in turn reduce your staff turnover rate. Having staff stay with your company for longer means that you get more value from any investments that you make in them – such as training them.
EEO may have the effect of increasing your company’s existing business as the implementation of EEO allows for a stronger brand reputation. A study by Accenture found that 6 in 10 people consider a company’s ethical values and authenticity before buying their products. Hence, a good EEO policy can be beneficial for drawing in more customers.
Varied Recruitment and Culture
Through EEO, it is more likely that you will hire people from around the world and people with a breadth of different experiences. This can help to enhance the culture at your company and allow it to be more inclusive. This will also allow for greater innovation at the workplace and can result in increased business. Furthermore, a study by McKinsey & Company shows that a greater level of diversity can help to enhance the employee experience and customer experience.
Implementing standard EEO policies means that there is less risk of there being complaints regarding discrimination in recruitment and employment. This leads to clear benefits of reduced legal fees as well as allowing the company to maintain its brand reputation. Fewer complaints also mean that staff are generally happier and do not feel demoralized. Clear policies also allow the company to avoid any workplace conflicts as the same policy is equally applied to all employees.
How to Follow EEO Guidelines
Fully implementing EEO policies can take a while but companies should at least take the following steps to follow EEO guidelines.
Review Your Existing Hiring Process
The hiring process needs to not be restrictive of certain individuals or those from certain backgrounds. To create an inclusive process, tests should be limited so that they are only used where they relate directly to certain job requirements. Similarly, interview questions should be reviewed so that they are not unfair to candidates based on their age, religion, sexuality, etc. Additionally, questions regarding a candidate’s age, religion, sexuality, etc. are unacceptable and should be removed.
At times, where a company has a particular recruitment pattern or has a tendency to recruit similar employees, it is because of hidden biases within the recruiters. Commonly, we develop certain biases without even knowing that we have. So, check that members of the recruitment team do not have any harmful biases that may hurt a candidate’s application. This should be done once a year at least or when a new member is recruited for the recruitment team.
Finally, the recruitment team and the entire company should be encouraged to pursue employees from diverse backgrounds. This will allow the company to reap the above-mentioned benefits.
The EEOC defines harassment as unwelcome conduct based on sex, religion, race, or any other protected characteristics. This is a lower standard than what society usually deems as harassment – such as the use of offensive language. Therefore, it is imperative that you actively deter harassment – rather than fixing it after it has happened. This allows the company to avoid discrimination charges. There are a few things a company can implement to make the workplace more friendly and harassment-free.
Your most important and effective tool in combatting harassment is training – specifically on anti-discrimination and harassment prevention. It should explain how not to be anti-discriminatory at the workplace as well as how employees can prevent the work environment from getting hostile.
Additionally, further training should be given to managers and superior officers within the company. Managers need to be taught to a higher standard as they are the ones responsible for teaching the rest of the workforce, spreading awareness, and eliminating any discriminatory practices.
Finally, managers should receive training and guidelines on how to deal with complaints. They need to be dealt with effectively and quickly so that the employees concerned are satisfied and the complaint is appropriately dealt with. Creating guidelines for dealing with complaints is essential as it allows managers to handle each one in a similar and pre-established manner – thus reducing differing results between complaints.
Review Bonus and Promotion Guidelines
These guidelines should be reformed and reworked so that it is in line with the company’s EEO policies. Employees should be rewarded on the basis of merit only and not because of any protected characteristic or something related to them. Similar to the recruitment team, those who are in charge of the rewards should be checked for any hidden biases that may affect their judgment. Any such bias can also be defeated through regular training. Training should tackle both how to reduce such biases as well as how to follow company guidelines and apply them consistently. Finally, decisions to reward employees should be looked over by a third party so that inconsistencies can be dealt with, as and when they arise.
If an employee complains of discrimination or unfair treatment on the basis of any protected characteristic, then it is important that the company does not retaliate against that employee. Instead, an investigation should be carried out where a complaint has been made so that an accurate verdict is reached. It is also good to make sure that the complainant is cared for and that any requests they raise in relation to the investigation are looked at carefully and responded to fairly. Finally, employees should be made to feel safe and free to make a complaint to any other member of staff. This can only be done through reassurance that they are not going to face any retaliation. Therefore, it may be useful to include such within your EEO policy.
This link will visualize the effects of retaliation against employees and the possible fines that you will be liable to pay.
Other Smaller Tips
There are a further few things that may help you in staying on the good side of the EEOC.
- Report workforce data to the EEOC. You may have to complete an EEO-1 Report that details the ethnicity, race, and gender of your workforce.
- Provide equal pay for equal work. Although equal pay is separate to EEO, both are overseen by the EEOC and the areas overlap quite a bit, so it is helpful to provide equal pay.
- Make accommodations for employees where possible. For example, a quiet room to pray or time off if they need it due to a protected characteristic.
- Inform all employees about the law, your specific policies, and their ability to contact the EEOC and file a charge.
- Keep employment records for all employees as the law requires. For example, if a charge has been filed, the files must be kept until the charge has been resolved.
Now that you have an understanding of EEO laws and their benefits, it is time to implement them and secure further training for all your employees. Follow this link for some training tips.