The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a Federal Agency created to eradicate discrimination in employment. The agency was started out of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the Civil Rights act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in private sector employment throughout the United States.
Here is a summary of the various laws that fall under the EEOC’s authority:
- Equal Pay Act of 1963 (included in the Fair Labor Standards Act), as amended, prohibits sex discrimination in the payment of wages to men and women performing substantially equal work in the same establishment.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, amended Title VII to clarify that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes sex discrimination. It requires employers to treat pregnancy and pregnancy related medical conditions as any other medical disability with respect to terms and conditions of employment, including health benefits.
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, protects workers 40 years of age and older from age-based discrimination in hiring, discharge, pay, promotions, fringe benefits, and other aspects of employment. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act also prohibits the termination of pension contributions and accruals on account of age, and governs early retirement incentive plans and other aspects of benefits planning and integration for older workers.
- Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, prohibit discrimination against a qualified person with a disability in the federal government, and in some cases, require reasonable accommodation on the basis of disability in federal government programs.
- Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of disability by private and state and local government employers; require covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities unless it creates an undue hardship for the employer; limit the circumstances under which employers may conduct medical examinations or make inquiries about disabilities; and require that any medical information about applicants and employees be kept confidential, subject to limited exceptions.
- Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of an applicant’s or employee’s genetic information, generally prohibits acquisition of genetic information from applicants and employees, and requires covered entities to keep such information confidential, subject to limited exceptions.
- Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, codified EEOC’s long-held position that each paycheck that contains discriminatory compensation is a separate violation of federal law, regardless of when the discrimination began.
Who is subject to their regulation?
The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination filed against employers who have a statutory minimum number of employees. Most employers with at least 15 employees are subject to EEOC laws. In the case of age discrimination, the employee threshold is 20.
EEOC’s authority allows it to investigate a charge against an employer and make a finding. In some cases the EEOC will take an employer to court on behalf of the individual filing the complaint.
Complaints by the numbers:
In 2017 EEOC received 84,254 charges against businesses nationwide. In New Jersey, that was 1,611 charges filed. Not all charges were found to be credible. More than 50% were concluded to not have a reasonable cause. However, when the EEOC did find a reasonable cause, was able to obtain over $355,000,000 in monetary benefits for more than 16,760 people
Time frame for filing charges
The anti-discrimination laws that the EEOC enforces provide a limited amount of time to file a charge of discrimination - 180 days from when the discrimination took place. However, if there is a state or local agency that prohibits discrimination on the same basis, that time frame increases to 300 calendar days. In New Jersey, the NJ Law Against Discrimination provides the same legal protections as the EEOC.
There are different time frames for Equal Pay Acts claims for which an employee does not have to file a charge with the EEOC, but instead can go direct to the courts to file a lawsuit. That deadline is two years from the day the employee received his or her last discriminatory paycheck, or three years in the case of willful discrimination.
Your Responsibilities under the EEOC
- Ensure that employment decisions are not based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, or genetic information.
- Ensure that work policies and practices are related to the job and do not disproportionately exclude people of a particular race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age.
- 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. Stop, address, and prevent harassment and discrimination. Ensure that employees are not punished for complaining.
- Provide reasonable accommodations (changes to the way things are normally done at work, such as permitting a schedule change so an employee can attend a doctor’s appointment or observe a religious holiday) to applicants and employees who need them for medical or religious reasons, if required by law.
- Display a poster that describes the federal employment discrimination laws. (Download one for free at http://www1.eeoc.gov/employers/poster.cfm).
Retain any employment records (such as applications or personnel records) as required by law.
Bear in mind you may have additional responsibilities under federal, state, or local laws.
Need help understanding more about the EEOC?
The EEOC has local liaisons for small businesses throughout the country. To find your local liaison, visit its site at:
http://www.eeoc.gov/employers/contacts.cfm or call 800-669-4000.
How to protect your business
To protect and defend your company from the cost of employment related harassment or discrimination claims you can purchase Employment Practices Liability insurance. This type of insurance policy provides coverage for legal fees and liability for damages awarded against you in court or mediation. It’s wise protection to consider for your company.