Avoiding discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin is, arguably, one of the top priorities on America’s agenda today. If you add age, disability, and genetic information to the list above, then you have a working definition of the issues you as an employer need to be sensitive to in your hiring practices. According to EEOC rules, you must also avoid harassment in your workplace, make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious beliefs or disabilities, and refrain from retaliating against employees who have filed complaints.
Here’s a four-step process that can help you get started with an EEO compliance strategy for your business:
Delegate a point person. One employee should be accountable for designing, implementing, and maintaining your efforts to have a discrimination-free workplace. This is a big task. In fact, the EEOC is actively working to make compliance more manageable for small businesses. In the meanwhile, it makes sense to assign someone on the team to become your “designated expert.”
Determine which regulations apply. If your business is at or above 15 employees working at least 20 weeks per year, then it’s subject to all regulations regarding discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or genetic information. When you hit 20 or more employees, the regulations against age discrimination also kick in.
If your business contracts or subcontracts with the federal government, with compensation in excess of $10,000 annually, you must also comply with Executive Order 11246, which is implemented and enforced by the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). The additional rules are not particularly onerous. You’ll be required to file an annual report, allow OFCCP to access your records in the event of a complaint, post EEO posters in the workplace, and add the EEO tagline to your employment advertising. However, if the value of your contracts exceeds $50,000, you’ll also be required to develop and maintain a written affirmative action program.
Put your plan in writing. So what does EEO compliance actually entail? Most simply, planning, implementation, and regular follow-up. Create a written document that specifies the hiring practices you plan to follow and how you will communicate with employees about what types of language and behavior will not be tolerated in the workplace. Consequences for violating your policies should be stated explicitly.
The implementation stage should consist of educational meetings with all employees to make sure they understand the policies. Posters are available from the EEOC that can be put up in break rooms. And training is an option for managers or lead employees, either from the EEOC itself or third parties.
Finally, review your EEOC policy regularly. Conduct an internal audit both of the measures you have taken to foster compliance, and any violations that may have occurred during the period. As always, thorough documentation and adherence to an objective process are your best defense in the event of an employee complaint.
- Prepare for formal reporting requirements. At 100 or more employees, you will have to file an annual report, known as the EEO-1 or The Employer Information Report. And, even with fewer than 100 employees, it is essential to keep detailed information on each employee’s personnel history in case you are called upon to respond to a complaint. Records include everything related to each person’s job application, hiring, promotion or demotion, transfer, termination, rates of pay and other compensation, and selection for training. All of these records must be retained for one year from the date of termination.