The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency responsible for enforcing the federal anti-discrimination law. As the enforcer of U.S. laws prohibiting discrimination, the agency had a busy year in fiscal 2016. It received 91,503 charges of workplace discrimination in 2016, and resolved 97,443 charges.
Established in 1965, the EEOC has contended with lawmakers, employers, civil rights groups and special-interest groups to ensure that workers don't suffer discrimination and harassment as applicants or employees. As workplace discrimination persists, the agency's work to protect basic human rights is integral to the U.S. employment arena.
EEOC protections broad and specific
The EEOC's legal purview encompasses federal laws that protect employees and job applicants against employment discrimination when it involves:
- Unfair treatment because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.
- Harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in the workplace because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity or sexual orientation ), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.
- Denial of a reasonable workplace accommodation that an employee needs because of religious beliefs or disability as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Retaliation because an employee complained about job discrimination, or assisted with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
Retaliation leads EEOC charges list
Whenever possible, the EEOC works with businesses to resolve charges voluntarily. Its mediation program achieved a success rate above 76 percent in 2016, and saved resources for employers, workers, and the agency. The EEOC resolved 97,443 charges and secured more than $482 million for victims of discrimination in private-sector and state and local government workplaces through voluntary resolutions and litigation.
Retaliation led the list of complaints. The EEOC describes retaliation as "punishing job applicants or employees for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination, including harassment."
Last year's charge numbers are below:
- Retaliation: 42,018 (45.9 percent of all charges filed)
- Race: 32,309 (35.3 percent)
- Disability: 28,073 (30.7 percent)
- Sex: 26,934 (29.4 percent)
- Age: 20,857 (22.8 percent)
- National origin: 9,840 (10.8 percent)
- Religion: 3,825 (4.2 percent)
- Color: 3,102 (3.4 percent)
- Equal Pay Act: 1,075 (1.2 percent)
- Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act: 238 (.3 percent)
These numbers show that plenty of discrimination occurs in American workplaces.
Preventing discrimination is good business
Keep in mind that maintaining a discrimination-free workplace isn't just part of a legal and humanitarian stance; it's also good business. Employees who are treated fairly in every respect are more likely to be productive, enjoy high morale, and likely to stay at your company.
It's really common sense, too: Why give someone a reason to sue your business?
As an employer, the laws that the EEOC enforces require, in part, that you:
- Ensure that employment decisions are not based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, or genetic information.
- Ensure that employment policies and practices are related to the job and do not have a negative effect on applicants and employees of a protected class.
- Ensure that employees are not harassed because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, or genetic information.
- Provide equal pay to male and female employees who perform the same work, unless you can justify a pay difference under the law.
- Respond promptly and adequately to discrimination complaints, and ensure that employees are not retaliated against for reporting discrimination, participating in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit or opposing discrimination. .
- Provide reasonable accommodations to applicants and employees for a covered disability or religious reason, where required by law.
- Display the required poster that describes the federal employment discrimination laws. (Download one for free from the EEOC's page).
- Retain employment records (such as applications or personnel records) as required by applicable law.
You may have additional responsibilities under federal, state, or local laws. The EEOC has staff across the country available to help, including local EEOC small business liaisons. Paychex also offers information and resources to help employers stay in compliance.