How to Use the EEOC to Help Guide your Company Anti-Discrimination Policies

The EEOC outlines ways to create a welcoming environment that promotes diversity at all levels.

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How to Use the EEOC to Help Guide your Company Anti-Discrimination Policies

Here's what you need to know about how to use the EEOC to help guide your company anti-discrimination policies:

  • The EEOC provides guidance in the form of best practices for business leaders and Human Resource professionals.
  • When employees understand what actions and behaviors they do not have to tolerate in the workplace, they are more apt to voice their concerns early.
  • The EEOC’s Training Institute site includes links to virtual workshops.

Employers are required to maintain a discrimination- and harassment-free workplace. At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires all businesses with 15 or more employees to prevent and prohibit discrimination. Under many state and local ordinances, discrimination laws apply regardless of company size.

For many employers, guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a lifeline to compliance and a professional work environment. The EEOC has published an abundance of information that can assist businesses. Using these to inform policies and practices, employers can create an environment of respect and collaboration.

How can the EEOC help?

Creating strong policies is the first step to a professional workplace. The EEOC has guidance on best practices for employers. They outline the policies that should be in your employee manual and handbook. These set the standards for required and expected behaviors on the job.

For many employers, guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a lifeline to compliance and a professional work environment.

Communication is key. Useful policies adequately inform employees expected behavior. It’s critical to disseminate the information widely and frequently. This helps assure employees understand their role and responsibilities in a professional environment. The next step is to create a safe, responsive environment to report violations or concerns.

Creating policies that prohibit discrimination

Policies must be well crafted and unambiguous, whatever the size of the business. There can be no ‘grey area’ on what is prohibited; or exceptions to the rule. For a company to ensure a non-discriminatory workplace, rules must be applied evenly.  Regardless of who files a complaint or who is accused of poor behavior, the company must take employees’ concerns seriously and in good faith.

Prevention is key. Employees are able to adhere to the rules when the expected behavior is clearly defined. When employees understand what actions and behaviors they do not have to tolerate in the workplace, they are more apt to voice their concerns early. Expeditious action makes it easier to correct inappropriate behavior. Quick action also makes it easier to take more serious action if warranted.

For every business size, a clear policy may be an affirmative defense in the event of a complaint. A company should clearly define what will not be tolerated in the workplace. The organization should also be able to demonstrate that policies were communicated to all employees.

New hire orientation should include an employee handbook that outlines non-discrimination rules and requirements. Employees should provide verification, by electronic or manual signature, that they have received, read, and understood their copy of the handbook. This verification should cover any updates and corrections, including their understanding of their rights and responsibilities as an employee.

What policies should I create?

The EEOC recommends several types of policies to prevent discrimination. Created policies should outline Federal (and any state or local) laws . This policy should mirror, or even copy, current legislation. It should list:

  • The policy’s protections
  • Ways discrimination can occur
  • How to file a concern or complaint
  • Protection against retaliation

Treating people in protected classes differently than those who are not part of a protected group results in discrimination. These protected classes include:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • National origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Veteran status

Many states and localities include additional protected classes. Look to your local Department of Labor for more details on protected classes where you do business.

Types of discrimination

The EEOC defines discrimination in several ways. Discrimination can include inquiring about a person’s health or genetic information when not necessary or appropriate.

Some discrimination is covert; this can include unconscious bias or disparate impact.

Overt discrimination

Overt discrimination happens against people in a protected class. As a result, those in protected classes may be subjected to:

  • Denied jobs or promotions
  • Less pay
  • Less desirable shifts or assignments
  • Harassment or sexual harassment on the job
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Covert discrimination, unconscious bias, or disparate impact

Some discrimination is covert; this can include unconscious bias or disparate impact. These types of discrimination may be unintentional. Unconscious bias can be based on assumptions. For example, a company displays unconscious bias when they erroneously assume a woman who has children is not interested in overtime hours. Without asking each individual their preference, unconscious bias may occur.

Disparate impact discrimination occurs when a company’s policies or practices impact protected classes more than others. Setting minimum height requirements for jobs, for example, may exclude women or people who use a wheelchair. The result of that practice is discriminatory. Intended or not.

Harassment

Another type of discrimination is harassment. It can include:

  • Teasing
  • Demeaning
  • Bullying
  • Excluding people based on their protected status

This can mean not including more senior workers on projects or even extra-curricular activities. It can mean teasing, belittling, bullying, or excluding people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Discrimination can include sexual harassment. These could involve:

  • Demands for sexual favors
  • Tolerating unwelcome behaviors either aimed directly at the victim or behaviors the victim has to witness

Refusal to make a reasonable accommodation

Another form of discrimination occurs when an applicant or employee is denied a request for a reasonable accommodation to perform their job (or potential job). This may be intentional or stem from the employer’s lack of knowledge of how to make an accommodation that works without presenting an undue hardship.

Retaliation

Finally, discrimination can be in the form of retaliation. The law is clear. An employer must treat an employee as if they didn’t file either a formal or informal complaint after they do file a complaint.

A staff member may casually request their colleagues refrain from off-color jokes or profane language. If the response to the request is teasing, demeaning, or shunning, it may be discrimination.

The company must assume any employee complaint received by a manager or HR was made in good faith. When a charge has been filed, the company must warn coworkers not to treat the employee any differently than they would treat others. Their own response and investigation of the claim must not impact the employee in any negative way.

Best practice recommendations from EEOC

The EEOC provides guidance in the form of best practices for business leaders and Human Resource professionals. They outline ways to create a welcoming environment that promotes diversity at all levels.

These guidelines help businesses from the recruitment phase throughout the employment relationship. They suggest ways to open to a broader applicant pool; create job descriptions and postings that include rather than exclude candidates. Some companies use screening software that erases or ignores resume and application data points that could suggest a protected class. For some organizations, structured interviews help eliminate bias in the selection process. These tools help reduce discrimination in the hiring process.

Once hired, EEO provides insight into training staff and management on maintaining a culture of respect and professionalism. Suggestions include communication and training, as well as periodic monitoring of all systems and practices to assure there is no intentional or unplanned bias.

More assistance for employers

The Agency provides general information to employers (and staff members) on rights and responsibilities. The EEOC’s Training Institute site includes links to virtual workshops that outline sessions about updates to:

  • The law
  • Best practices
  • And more

HR professionals, managers, and others benefit from these classes. Some even provide accreditation for Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and HR Certification Institute (HRCI) credits.

On-site, customized training is also available. EEOC trainers can create and deliver personalized lessons for staff and management on any topic under their jurisdiction. For business leaders, these sessions can be invaluable tools to ensure a workplace free of discrimination.

The EEOC helps you protect your company and your employees

A diverse workforce is dynamic, engaged, and productive. An environment that allows employees to use their authentic voice at work is energetic and innovative. A respectful workplace prevents and prohibits discrimination at all levels and in all its forms. That results in a professional, profitable working arrangement for businesses and employees.

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