By: Melanie Dunajeski, Drewry Simmons Vornehm, LLP
As an employment attorney, I have long consulted resources on the EEOC run website (www.EEOC.gov), but found that site to be long on resources for employees seeking to file a charge of discrimination while at the same time being fairly short on information to help small business owners create and maintain a discrimination-free workplace. The EEOC is trying to remedy the lack or readily available employer resources, and recently launched its “Small Business Resource Center” located at https://www.eeoc.gov/employers/smallbusiness/index.cfm . The site is described by EEOC Commissioner Constance Barker as a first step in the EEOC’s efforts to become more friendly to the needs of its employer/business users. There employers can review generally which federal employment anti-discrimination laws apply to their business (state and municipal laws are NOT analyzed by this site), review some helpful tips for small business owners, get some guidance on what can or cannot be considered in a hiring decision, and even view some EEOC -produced videos. Currently available videos include Hiring-What You Can Ask, What You Shouldn’t Ask, What You Can’t ask, and Hiring Tips. Another video addresses employer’s responsibilities in Responding to a Charge of Discrimination. Also contained on the site are some basic resources with respect to creating policy, training employees about discrimination, and making non-discriminatory decisions with respect to lay-offs, discipline, terminations and responding to requests for leave. These are not technical explanations, but rather are meant to be a “plain language” resource for small business.
When should a small business use this site? The best time to consult these resources is as part of an effort to create and maintain a discrimination-free workplace, such as before starting the hiring process, or before starting to put together a policy and procedure manual, since the site gives only broad, non-specific information. The site is probably less helpful to a small business who visits the site the first time as a result of needing guidance on a difficult termination decision or the filing of a Charge of Discrimination, because at that time the emphasis has shifted from prevention to defense. For example, the site video on “Responding to a Charge of Discrimination” provides some general information about responding to the EEOC, but does not advise employers of the legal implications of the representations that they make to the EEOC Investigators nor of defenses that might be available under the various types of allege discrimination. It is always a good idea to consult with counsel prior to filing a Response to a Charge of Discrimination, and with respect to any major change in policy, procedure, or employment practices.