All things being equal, you need to know what it means to be an equal employment opportunity (EEO) employer. Basically, if you’re a company that doesn’t discriminate against people (which we sincerely hope is you), you fit the bill. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency that was created to spot discrimination and then quickly scrub it away.
The EEO covers things like pay equality and diversity, along with other icky things like sexual harassment, racism, and ageism. For a quick overview, here’s the full list of traits and factors that can be the basis of a discrimination claim (plus links to the corresponding EEOC definitions):
- Equal Pay/Compensation
- Genetic Information
- National Origin
- Sexual Harassment
Once you explore all of the factors above, you’ve mastered the first lesson in how to treat your team fairly. Now, let’s take look at all the EEOC requirements for businesses like you, along with key points about what happens if any employees ever file a complaint.
Am I covered by EEO laws?
While the EEOC was established in 1965, a quick look at the headlines will show you just how relevant these issues still are more than half a century later. Discrimination won’t just hurt your reputation and the morale of your team, it could also mean lengthy investigations and hefty penalties, if not legal damages. The best thing to do is to create a positive workplace, and foster a culture of inclusivity. So don’t discriminate — it’s not okay, plain and simple.
Generally speaking, EEOC laws apply to any company with 15 or more employees who have worked for at least 20 weeks during the current or previous year. Before you start thumbing through your directory, remember that this can change depending on the state you live in and the type of organization you have.
The EEOC protects employees, job applicants, former employees, and applicants or participants in training or apprenticeship programs. It doesn’t include folks like independent contractors, or anyone who isn’t technically employed by your company.
What are my requirements?
While one of the EEOC’s primary roles is to investigate charges of discrimination, they may also conduct occasional audits. They keep an eye out for issues like pay equity, and they also make sure criminal checks, credit reviews, and health care information isn’t being misused or improperly collected.
This means the list of general requirements isn’t particularly long, but understanding them, staying compliant, and making sure your record-keeping skills are stellar are all super important.
Here’s what you have to do:
- Post a copy of the “EEO is the Law” poster in a location that’s clear to everyone and accessible for those with limited mobility, like your lunchroom. This poster runs down the laws that prohibit discrimination and explains how employees can file a complaint. Download and print a copy here >>
- Keep certain paperwork on file for a period of time. For example, you need to keep employment records for one year, and payroll records for three years. Get a more detailed overview here >>
- File an EEO-1 Report (if you need to). Do you have 100 or more people on your team? What about 50 or more folks and a government contract of at least $50,000? Then the EEO-1 Report is one report you need to file. You can simply file the form online here. If you’ve never filed before, make sure you register here before starting.
How the EEO complaint process works
Complaints are never fun to deal with. However, it’s important to have the basics down so you can know what to expect if they arise. Employees and candidates for employment have 180 days after a specific incident to file a Charge of Discrimination, or up to 300 days if the timeline is extended by state or local laws. The charge doesn’t need to be filed by the employee. It can also be submitted by another individual or organization on their behalf, which can help protect that person’s anonymity.
Once that happens, the EEOC must accept the charge. Then, it’s looked into by an investigator, or that person’s employer can decide to resolve it through mediation. The investigator’s role is to collect clues about what happened and decide whether the charge has merit. This process may include interviews, statements, and other documentation. A person who files a charge is entitled to have a reasonable amount of time at work to prepare for the investigation. In 2015, the average length of an investigation was 10 months.
Once the investigator has wrapped up their assessment, they’ll decide whether to dismiss or move forward with the charge. If the charge has legs, the EEOC needs to notify the employer within 10 days. Then, they’ll work with all parties involved to remedy the situation.
Making your office a safe and awesome place to be
Why is the EEOC important? Because it sets the baseline for how people should treat each other at work. But really, it’s up each employer to create a culture that doesn’t accept any kind of discriminatory behavior. Doing so isn’t just a matter of staying compliant; it’s essential if you want to create a dynamic and comfortable work environment that helps people thrive.
The EEOC has compiled a list of best practices to help you prevent discrimination. This includes developing strong policies, training your team, and then holding them accountable. Working with an experienced attorney to develop these policies will not only help you meet EEOC requirements, they can also guide you through any local or state legislation that applies to your company. Understanding regulations for your specific area — including state and local laws — can be complicated. Therefore, the EEOC recommends that you contact your local EEOC field office for more guidance.
Being an EEO-compliant employer is completely within sight — you just need to know where to go. Now stick your posters on the wall, keep your paperwork squeaky clean, and file any necessary reports. If you build a strong, open culture and follow these EEO requirements, you can rest easy knowing you’re treating your team as fairly as can be.