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The EEOC’s new initiatives for 2008: All talk … or a real threat?

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in Compensation and Benefits,Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,FMLA Guidelines,Hiring,Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Employers can’t discriminate in hiring, firing, compensation, terms or conditions of employment. Nor can employers segregate employees based on their membership in a protected class.

The EEOC also enforces the ADA, which protects qualified individuals with  disabilities from job discrimination, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which protects workers 40 or older.

What's new  

In recent months, the EEOC has made a lot of noise about new initiatives to combat workplace discrimination. Three of the most prominent include (1) the E-RACE Initiative, (2) employment testing and (3) protections for caregivers.

The E-RACE Initiative

The Eradicating Racism and Colorism from Employment (E-RACE) Initiative is an outreach, education and enforcement campaign designed to create “a workplace free of race and color discrimination.” The agency calls the national campaign a “fresh, 21st century approach to combating racism.” (See www.eeoc.gov/initiatives/e-race.)

Racial harassment cases have more than doubled since the 1990s. And several high-profile racial harassment cases—some involving workers leaving nooses in the workplace to intimidate African-American workers—led to the launch of E-RACE.

The agency set up a special section on its web site that highlights cases that fit into those categories. They can be found at www.eeoc.gov/initiatives/e-race/caselist.html.

Employment testing

The EEOC also is examining employment testing and selection procedures to ensure they don’t violate any of the laws the commission enforces.

The Employment Tests and Selection Procedures Initiative is the EEOC’s response to two trends: (1) Employers ramped up pre-employment testing in the wake of post-9/11 security concerns; and (2) the Internet has motivated employers to seek efficient ways to screen large applicant pools in a nonsubjective way. As pre-hire testing has increased, so has the number of discrimination complaints surrounding them.  

The EEOC reminds employers that tests violate the law if they’re designed to prevent minorities, older workers or the disabled from obtaining employment. Even tests that appear proper on the surface may violate the law if they disparately impact minorities, older workers or the disabled.

Employers must be able to demonstrate that their tests are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

Protections for caregivers

Last year, the EEOC wove protections from Title VII, the ADA and the ADEA into a guidance document that explains how “employees with caregiving responsibilities” are protected from job discrimination.

No specific law protects employees who must care for elderly parents, sick spouses or disabled children. But the EEOC says caregiving responsibilities fall disproportionately on women and minorities. So caregiving-bias lawsuits have been filed under laws such as Title VII, the FMLA, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

How to comply

These initiatives will have their greatest impact by raising awareness among your employees as to their legal rights—and where they can turn to seek justice. So your best approach, as always, is to steer clear of the EEOC’s crosshairs in the first place. To make sure your workplace is discrimination-free:

1. Review your handbook and training,
to make sure they include clear anti-discrimination information. The policy—and subsequent regular training—should make clear that your organization won’t tolerate discrimination against any protected group. State laws and local ordinances often protect groups that federal laws do not.

2. Examine all employment tests and screening procedures to ensure they don’t violate federal law. The EEOC offers an extensive fact sheet that explains the legal practices for cognitive tests, personality tests, medical tests, credit checks and more. Access Employment Tests and Selection Procedures at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/factemployment_procedures.html.

3. Train supervisors about caregiver needs and all applicable laws. 

The EEOC offers a Q&A fact sheet to help employers understand how anti-bias laws apply to workers with caregiving duties. Read it at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/qanda_caregiving.html.

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