(by Andres Rojas)
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination.
The EEO Commission protects traditionally disadvantaged workers – such as women, the LBGT community, people with disabilities, and people of color (POC) – from being harassed, discriminated, made feel unsafe, or denied working opportunities because of their race, sex, gender identity, or other immutable traits.
Since 1964, the EEOC has promoted equal employment through enforcement of the federal civil rights acts but also through educating workers and giving technical assistance to private companies.
In 2019 alone, the EEOC secured over $486 million for workplace discrimination victims through mediation and settlements, and also educated more than 295,000 individuals about their rights and responsibilities in the workplace.
What Does the EEOC Cover?
The EEOC’s mission is to fight against a wide variety of workplace discrimination types. They most commonly deal with discrimination cases based on:
- Equal Pay/Compensation
- Genetic Information
- National Origin
- Sexual Harassment
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
The EEOC can investigate any discrimination charges involving employers that have at least 15 employees – or 20, for cases involving age discrimination. Besides investigating employers, the commission can also investigate brokers, such as employment agencies and labor unions
What Laws Does the EEOC Enforce?
The EEOC interprets and enforces federal laws against discrimination. However, not all of them fall under its scope. As of October 2021, the laws enforced by the EEOC are:
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963. Was the first law in US history to demand that employers give equal pay to men and women doing the same job.
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Created the EEOC and prohibited discriminating against workers due to their race, sex, religion, or national origin. It also requires employers to accommodate their workers’ sincerely held religious practices, if these don’t clash with the operation of their business.
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967. Protects workers aged 40 and older from being discriminated against and requires that employers give additional information to older employees if they ask them to waive their right to sue for age discrimination.
- Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Prohibits discriminating against disabled people working in the federal government and requires employers to accommodate their disabled workers’ known mental and physical limitations.
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1976. Forbids employers from discriminating against pregnant workers in any aspect of employment – including hiring, pay, job assignments, firing, leave, etc.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Protects applicants and workers who have a disability and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for them.
- The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008. Makes discrimination based on genetic information, as well as employers collecting that information, illegal.
How Does the EEOC Work?
The EEOC assesses and prosecutes discrimination allegations. Besides investigating violations, they can also penalize employers for not taking corrective action after one of their employees harassed, threatened, or made unwanted sexual comments in the workplace
Mediation and Enforcement
Before charges are filed, the EEOC will usually try to settle with employers and employees. The commission offers an informal mediation procedure where the parties can reconcile their difference with the help of a neutral mediator. If this fails, the EEOC can file a lawsuit seeking monetary damages.
Retaliation is one of the EEOC’s biggest concerns. Despite every federal law penalizing employers retaliating against workers who make a discrimination claim, few of them get prosecuted in practice. According to Government Executive, 63% of employees who file a discrimination complaint lose their job.
The commission works to reduce these numbers by using a broad interpretation of the laws that protect workers from being punished or harassed for making a discrimination complaint.
Education and Prevention
The EEOC also writes guidelines and organizes events to increase public knowledge about equal employment opportunity laws and also prevent discrimination before it even happens.
The EEOC and POC (People of Color)
The EEOC takes special interest in preventing discrimination against vulnerable groups, like POC (People of Color).
To track their employment status, the commission uses six employment surveys to collect and publish data on their employment status, pay, labor union membership, and the educational opportunities they have access to.
Once this data is tabulated, the agency shares it with federal agencies and uses it to prosecute equal employment opportunity law violators.
Avoiding equal employment opportunity complaints is key to your business’s bottom line. So make sure your HR department talks with a trusted EEO consultant to ensure your business is compliant as soon as you can. And if you need EPLI coverage, don’t hesitate to contact us.