It’s Not Just the Big Boys Anymore - The EEOC Aims at Small Business

EEOC ComplianceWith the release of their new priorities for 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
has signaled their intent to far more aggressively monitor and enforce their mandate. In particular, it has signaled an intention to expand their probes to more, and much smaller, companies. No one, it seems,
can completely avoid scrutiny from this high-handed and often arbitrary governmental agency.  A visit to
EEOC homepage only serves to confirm these facts.

The Overall EEOC Mission

Since its founding in 1965, the EEOC has been tasked with ensuring compliance with the nation’s anti-discrimination laws, most notably:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA),
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
The ADA Amendments Act of 2008.

While in the past, the EEOC has primarily targeting large employers in their efforts, their new message is abundantly clear. They intend to significantly expand their efforts and scrutinize a larger number of small businesses than ever before.

The New Priorities for 2013

The priorities are broadly described and it is clear that their establishment is based on including as many employers and employees as possible. While the intent may seem reasonable and fair, the Commission’s methods of enforcement are less so. Though, in some instances, the Commission intends to use education and conciliation to resolve issues, litigation seems to be, by far, their first choice in addressing non-compliance with every one of the following priorities:

Eliminating Systemic Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring
Protecting Immigrant, Migrant and Other Vulnerable Workers
Addressing Emerging and Developing Issues
Preserving Access to the Legal System
Preventing Harassment

When taken together, these five priorities aim to eliminate class-based recruitment and hiring practices against all protected employee classes, encourage individuals to exercise their legal rights when harassed or discriminated against and, in a newly broadened effort, concentrate on emerging and developing issues such as discrimination against pregnant women, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Worrisome Practices at the EEOC

No one doubts the good intentions of those who crafted the anti-discrimination laws or of those who aim to enforce them. Nevertheless, the EEOC is a bureaucracy that can seem to take on a life of its own. There are countless examples of innocuous actions being construed as discrimination. (Every hiring manger is warned to not ask for the birth date of a potential candidate as this action can be seen as a sign of age bias.)

Bias is seen by the EEOC in all manners of non-discriminatory actions from taking a potential employee’s picture to finding the right position for a person. In addition, the EEOC does not give an employer the benefit of the doubt in any situation. In particular, they are concerned with inadvertent discrimination. Even if your actins are neither conscious nor malicious, you are responsible for how they are perceived.

In addition, the EEOC only seems to have one intent - punish any company as egregiously as possible to send a signal and have the proverbial “chilling effect” on other, unprosecuted companies.

Lastly, the EEOC seems singularly unconcerned about the financial effects that their investigations produce in a company. Defending yourself against the accusations of a single employee, backed by the U.S. government, is aggravating, time-consuming and expensive. In most cases, you will have no recourse to recover any of those costs from neither the plaintiff nor the Commission.

How a PEO Can Help Small Businesses

The possibility of the EEOC probing into one’s HR practices is a troubling thought. In a world where large companies such as Microsoft and CVS Caremark, with their enormous resources and dedicated HR staff, are unable to properly comply, it seems unlikely that a small business has any chance at all. Even President Obama’s reelection staff was noted for the disparity in men’s and women’s pay rates and for its lack of diversity. Fortunately, for the President, the EEOC works for him.

A Professional Employer Organization (
PEO) can help enormously with compliance issues and all other matters involving the EEOC. A PEO brings greater expertise, experience and resources to the management of human capital. Not only can their knowledge and procedures help avoid a potential EEOC complaint, they also provide the proper documentation to aid in a successful defense. In these worrisome times, with the EEOC specifically targeting small businesses, owners should seriously consider upgrading their HR infrastructure with a PEO.

Carolyn Sokol is a founder of which helps match small businesses with the best PEOs for their particular needs. Her background is in marketing and communications, employee education and training, development of policies and procedures and the ongoing delivery of outstanding customer service.

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