An article written by Employment Law Partner James F. Devine, Esq. discusses the need for employers to develop a comprehensive Equal Employment Opportunity Policy to communicate zero tolerance for harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
An accompanying podcast featuring Employment Law attorneys Jim Devine and Ryan Morris.
PODCAST – Equal Employment Opportunity Policy (Jim Devine and Ryan Morris)
Federal law does not specifically require employers to post or maintain an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy, however, it is a recommended best practice for private employers particularly in the new age of diversity, equity and inclusion. A well written EEO policy demonstrates an employer’s commitment to providing equal employment opportunities, as well as its compliance with federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws. As a stand-alone policy or as a companion to other policies focused on discrimination and harassment, the EEO policy communicates that unlawful discrimination is not tolerated. It should encourage resolution of issues before they become legal claims by providing an internal mechanism for employees to report discrimination they have witnessed or experienced first-hand. If a claim is brought, the EEO policy and corresponding training can provide an affirmative defense to a formal complaint. Although not mandated by federal law, an EEO policy is a critical component of an anti-harassment and discrimination policy, protocol and practice. It should be a lead policy in any handbook.
The EEO Policy should outline an employer's explicit prohibition of discrimination in any form or context. It should detail the employer’s recommended procedure for reporting inappropriate conduct. It should specifically define and prohibit retaliation. It can be incorporated into an employee handbook or used as a stand-alone policy document. In addition to EEO policies, employers may adopt policies that prohibit harassment and retaliation.
The EEO Policy should prohibit discrimination on the basis of membership in a protected class under various statutes, including but not limited to:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act)
- The ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act)
- GINA (The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008)
- USERRA (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act)
In addition, state and local laws may recognize additional protected classes. Employers must identify all protected classes in the relevant jurisdictions and tailor their policies accordingly.
It is imperative to include an effective reporting procedure. Employees should be encouraged and trained to report discrimination as soon as it occurs. Proper reporting protocols protect employer and employee legal rights, ensure appropriate and timely investigation and allow the employer to address and quash any inappropriate conduct. An effective complaint procedure should include at least two points of contact; usually a supervisor, human resources and or senior management. Employees should not have to report wrongful conduct to the person who is engaged in or causing the offending conduct. Personnel responsible for intake and investigation of complaints should be trained in protocol for immediate and meaningful address.
An effective EEO policy demonstrates an employer’s commitment to equality in the workplace. It provides the foundation for a safe and equitable work environment free from not just unlawful harassment and discrimination but inappropriate, hurtful and unprofessional conduct of any kind.
This past year has witnessed the evolution of a new work environment that presents challenges and opportunities for employers. Diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace are not just celebrated - they are now demanded. A focus on DEI can produce a more effective and efficient workforce. It can expand an employer’s geographic and demographic footprint. However, it is more than a singular policy. It is a culture. Employers that embrace DEI respect the unique needs, perspectives and potential of all their employees. This culture nurtures trust and a greater commitment from employees. This culture begins with the development of and adherence to an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy.
Equal Employment Opportunity at its core provides that every employee has an equal opportunity to find employment and or advancement based on the strength of their qualifications without regard to their membership in a protected class. The EEO policy establishes the baseline for how people should treat each other at work. Each employer must construct not just a policy, but a culture that prohibits any kind of discriminatory behavior. The EEO policy fosters equity, merit and fairness in the work environment. This, in turn, promotes other preferred qualities such as employee engagement and improved performance.
If you have any questions or are in need of assistance in updating your Employee Handbook, please contact Jim Devine, Esq. at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1-888-488-2638.
The information in this article is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. By reading this article, you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and Cipriani & Werner, P.C. or any of our attorneys. No information contained in this article should be construed as legal advice from Cipriani & Werner, P.C. or the individual authors.