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What Makes an Equal Opportunity Employer?

by Ruth Mayhew

Becoming an equal opportunity employer requires more than simply stamping the EOE acronym on your job postings and featuring videos of employees from diverse populations on your organization's Web pages devoted to careers. An EOE is an organization whose business principles support fair treatment, regardless of nonjob-related characteristics, such as age, disability, gender, national origin, race and veteran status. At the risk of stressing a trite expression, employers can't just talk the talk. They have to walk the walk.

Federal and State Laws

Companies that employ 15 or more workers are required to post a "EEO is the Law" poster conspicuously throughout the workplace. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission mandates these postings, which contain a summary of employee rights and steps on how to file a complaint if an employee believes he's been subjected to unfair employment practices. The EEOC investigates complaints against employers. Companies found to have violated applicable laws may be required to pay settlement costs or subject to stiff penalties, bad publicity and legal fees if unresolved issues are litigated in the court system. Also, states have similar laws that dovetail the federal ones. However, being an EOE isn't predicated on whether you posted the required posts or follow federal and state laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Fair Employment Practices

Human resources best practices strongly recommend that organizations embrace fair employment practices. While the federal and state laws apply to companies whose employee count meet the threshold, it's incumbent upon businesses to demonstrate that they play by the rules. Otherwise, employers face an uphill battle recruiting the best and the brightest workers. And, embracing fair employment practices is the right thing to do if you're going to run a successful business. Fair employment practices reflect fundamental ethics, which are essential for organizations to become good corporate citizens and to find their place in industry.

Business Practices

From the point at which an employer accepts an employment application to the day the employee leaves, whether of her own volition or not, business practices demonstrate the employer's commitment to equal opportunity. The recruitment process should include a creative approach to building a diverse applicant base, and evaluating qualifications based on job requirements and not the applicant's personal background or status. Hiring decisions are naturally subjective, but wise hiring decisions balance objectivity with subjective observation in considering two primary factors: qualifications and cultural fit. EOE companies value both in that they look for candidates who can contribute to the the company's success while growing their own knowledge base to achieve professional goals.

Accountability

Accountability for EOE status extends far beyond the boardroom. The trickle-down effect attributed to economic policy also is true concerning EOE. Corporate leaders who support the EOE mission are more likely to encourage everyone else on board to embrace fairness, mutual respect and diversity, which are tenets of EOE practices. An EOE puts its senior leadership out front to share its vision with directors, managers, supervisors and staff. Using HR leaders to take the reins isn't always the most effective way to bring the entire workforce into the fold. The CEO, president and or founder has to make it her edict first, absent the dictatorial aspect, of course. "Leadership should be held accountable -- perhaps by HR -- to demonstrate behavior that employees will emulate," says northern California-based leadership consultant Langdon Morris, in his article, "Top-Down Innovation: Leaders Define Innovative Culture," for RealInnovation.com.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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