EEO is shorthand for equal employment opportunity and is a matter overseen by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC. EEO is a product of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and is intended to protect employees from discrimination on the part of employers. EEO compliance means to operate a business or organization in accordance with this law.
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act established five protected classes: race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Additional protected classes have been added in the time since – age, veteran status, pregnancy, disability and genetic status. Sexual orientation and gender identity also exist as protected classes in certain states, but are not fully protected at the federal level.
EEO protects employees from being discriminated against by employers on the basis of personal characteristics included in the list of protected classes. It means that employers cannot base their hiring practices on these personal characteristics, except in rare situations; cannot harass or treat employees poorly on the basis of these personal characteristics; cannot offer grossly different compensation to employees delineated on the basis of these personal characteristics; and should take reasonable steps to accommodate for these personal characteristics, if needed. Furthermore, Title VII forbids discriminating against employees on the basis of associates who share these protected personal characteristics.
Employers and EEO
Legal exceptions exist to EEO compliance. Certain nonprofit organizations, religious groups working in capacities related to their religion, and Native American tribes with federal recognition are exempt from EEO. Employers can also discriminate in their hiring practices using one of the protected characteristics if they are able to prove that the characteristic is directly related to performing the duties of the position, that the position is related to the employer’s core operation, and that there is no reasonable alternative to the position.
EEO Complaint Resolution
Employees discriminated against can file a complaint with the EEOC. Once the complaint is filed, the EEOC notifies the employer before deciding whether an investigation is warranted. If an investigation is warranted, the EEOC attempts to resolve issues between the employee and employer through mediation before launching an investigation. If mediation fails, the EEOC investigates to reach a decision before attempting a reconciliation of employee and employer. Should reconciliation fail, the EEOC redirects the employee to the courts. At any stage of this process, the employee retains the right to sue the employer.
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