How To Avoid An EEOC Charge
For some employer’s and/or supervisors/manager’s…this may be common sense, and yet for others this may be a novel concept. However, avoiding an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge really boils down to avoiding discriminatory employment practices that violate an individual’s protections (race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), or national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and several subsequent civil-rights laws.
Let’s break it down a little further: just taking a look at the name of the Federal organization charged with enforcing the law – emphasis on Equal Employment Opportunity – we can get a jist as to how employment practices should affect our workers. In other words, employment practices should be fair across the board for all workers, that includes Jack and Jill…Latoya, Miguel, you get the idea. Your employment policies and practices, shouldn’t create disparate impacts on a certain protected class either, whether intentional or unintentional. Again, the name of the game is equal opportunity and it encompasses the totality of the employment relationship (work to be performed, pay, promotion potential, training opportunities, etc.) from the time your employee (or potential employee) is an applicant until the time they choose (or the choice is made for them) to go along their merry way.
A best practice in transparency within the workplace includes setting expectations (and of course making sure they apply to everyone fairly and equally). Whether you are welcoming a new employee or assigning new projects/responsibilities to already existing employees; having a conversation beforehand to set expectations is a good way to help your team members understand what is expected of them and how their functions or roles correlate with other teammates or the organization as a whole. Remember, you run the risk of EEOC complaints when you treat workers (who generally perform the same work, have the same seniority, etc) differently. Also, having your employee’s brush up on some diversity training is always helpful. Lastly, are your leaders creating a culture of inclusion and fairness within the workplace? If not, get rid of them, today’s leaders need to be able to create a culture of inclusion amongst your staff that is free of the many social biases (i.e. race, religion, sexual orientation) that many of us carry.
Now don’t get me wrong…EEO isn’t exactly as easy as it should be, as evidenced by the more than 75,000 EEOC charges on an annual basis for the past 18 years. Sometimes, perception can be a strong factor in the decision process of an employee who chooses to file an EEO complaint. Yet, even if you find yourself facing an EEO investigation, as long as you are able to show that you have acted appropriately within the confines of the law and have not discriminated against an employee based off of one of the protected classes, then you should be able to weather the storm. Remember, documentation/written records are key in being able to provide the needed evidence to fend off an EEO investigation, making sure that you are doing your due diligence throughout the employment relationship is a must.
On a final note, EEO and how it applies to the LGBT community. It doesn’t (to a certain extent for now). Currently there is no Federal statute that provides LGBT workers with protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, employers need to be aware that many states and local governments do provide protection from discrimination to LGBT workers. Additionally the EEOC has also started to investigate complaints by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions, as they may apply.