August 2, 2011
By David L. Walker, Jr.
It is important for Georgia business owners to be familiar with federal employment regulations such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, The Age Discrimination Act of 1967, and Title I of the Americans with Disability Act of 1990. Although business owners and managers may be familiar with the general requirements of these laws, which were originally designed under the auspices of limiting discrimination in the workplace, it is important to effectively institute workplace policies and procedures to avoid encountering unintended liabilities arising out of these and other state and federal regulations.
1. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Created in 1965, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the arm of the federal government primarily responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws and regulations in the workplace. Generally speaking, any employer who employees fifteen (15) or more employees is subject to EEOC enforcement.
The EEOC investigates allegations of discrimination by employees, and in certain instances it may institute civil proceedings and other sanctions against employers that it accuses of violating EEOC enforced laws or policy. In other instances, the EEOC may permit individual employees and their attorneys to seek damages from their employers – or former employers – by filing private lawsuits directly against the employer for alleged acts of discrimination.
2. Anti-Discrimination Policies in the Workplace
In order to avoid being subject to damaging allegations of workplace discrimination, it is important that employers adopt policies and procedures to deter discriminatory conduct within their business.
To avoid such liability, an employer must first be conscious of what types of conduct are prohibited. The EEOC prohibits discrimination based upon a person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also prohibits discrimination against individuals who have complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
It is critical that all employers adopt and implement policies prohibiting discriminatory conduct. A company should conduct regular training of its managers and employees concerning their rights and obligations arising under anti-discrimination laws and the remedies that are available to any individual who believes they have been subjected to discrimination in the workplace. Likewise, an employer is well-advised to adopt internal procedures by which employees may report alleged acts of discrimination to management and/or ownership, and have those allegations properly investigated and addressed.
3. The Employee Handbook
As a general rule, an Employee Handbook is an important tool for employers to establish requirements, privileges, and expectations of workplace conduct for their employees. It is vital for any employer to have a well-drafted employee handbook to confront a host of potential work-related liabilities that can arise between employers and employees.
In the context of establishing EEOC compliant anti-discrimination policies, it is critical for owners and management to promulgate Employee Handbooks which advise managers and employees about a company’s anti-discrimination policies and the remedies available to employees who believe they have been subjected to improper treatment. These handbooks operate as an indispensable first line of defense for any employer who is faced with an EEOC investigation.
Any Georgia business owner who does not already utilize a professionally drafted employee handbook is well-advised to consult with a qualified attorney to ensure that his or her company has exercised all available means to protect itself against EEOC scrutiny and charges of discrimination.
David L. Walker, Jr. is a partner in the law firm of Flint, Connolly & Walker, LLP where he represents businesses and individuals in various legal matters.