September 2, 2014
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has developed an agency-wide Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) for fiscal years 2012-2016 designed to maximize its ability, within the constraints of its resources, to have a sustainable impact on reducing and deterring discriminatory practices in the workplace. As a part of the SEP the Commission has adopted the following national priorities: (1) eliminating barriers in recruiting and hiring; (2) protecting immigrant, migrant, and other vulnerable workers; (3) addressing emerging and developing issues; (4) enforcing Equal Pay Laws; (5) preserving access to the legal system; and (6) preventing harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach. Under the fifth priority, preserving access to the legal system, EEOC has committed to targeting policies and practices which discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under the employment discrimination statutes or that impede EEOC's enforcement efforts. In order to implement the SEP in the federal sector, the Commission approved the Federal Sector Complement Plan (FCP). One of the strategies the FCP details for preserving access to the legal system in the federal sector is to assess whether agencies are providing employees with adequate information about how to initiate the EEO discrimination complaint process, and, if so, whether that information is easily accessible and understandable.
EEOC's Office of Federal Operations (OFO) has responsibility for, among other things, evaluating federal sector agencies' EEO programs, operations, and activities. Pursuant to these responsibilities, and as part of its federal sector implementation of EEOC's SEP/FCP priority concerning preserving access to the legal system, OFO is issuing this compilation of practices and ideas to provide agencies with a variety of adequate and appropriate methods of distributing EEO information concerning the complaint process, laws, and regulations to their workforce.
Each covered federal agency is required to maintain an EEO program. To this end, agencies must use various media to distribute EEO information concerning federal EEO laws, regulations and requirements, rights, and duties and responsibilities and to promote best workplace practices. EEOC Management Directive 715 (MD-715) Part II, Section B.
Pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.102(b)(5), each agency shall "[m]ake written materials available to all employees and applicants informing them of the variety of equal employment opportunity programs . . . and prominently post such written materials in all personnel and EEO offices and throughout the workplace."
In addition, agencies shall "publicize to all employees and post at all times the names, business telephone numbers and business addresses of the EEO Counselors (unless the counseling function is centralized, in which case only the telephone number and address need be publicized and posted), along with a notice of the time limits and necessity of contacting a Counselor before filing a complaint and the telephone numbers and addresses of the EEO Director, EEO Officer(s) and Special Emphasis Program Mangers." 29 C.F.R. § 1614.102(b)(7).
OFO provides this compilation of practices and ideas to assist federal agencies in implementing effective communication plans to inform all employees about their rights and responsibilities under federal EEO laws and regulations and to ensure that employees who want to file discrimination complaints know how to initiate the EEO complaint process. We note that agencies continue to face challenges in disseminating information and effectively communicating the EEO complaint process to their workforce. Agencies with a decentralized workforce encounter the most challenging communication issues. EEOC strongly recommends agencies use whatever electronic means available to them, for example, their official websites, phones and employee e-mail accounts as a primary method of communication with its workforce. However, we recognize that under some circumstances agencies may need alternative communication methods. In particular, circumstances in which employees' workstations are in non-office settings without regular access to the agencies' computer or office e-mail systems likely present the most complicated communication challenges.
Accordingly, we reached out to agencies whose employees are not in an office environment and asked which methods they used to effectively communicate to employees their rights under EEO laws in this electronic age. The following ideas constitute the agencies' most common practices:
Continuous communication of EEO laws and regulations and the complaint process is an important factor in an agency's success in becoming a model EEO program. Federal agencies must ensure a prompt and efficient complaint process and should make employees aware of the various anti-discrimination EEO laws.
Agencies must comply with EEOC regulations and management directives and ensure that EEO written materials are available to all employees; agencies should post such written materials in prominent areas throughout the workplace. We strongly encourage agencies to adopt several methods of communication to inform their employees about the EEO Program, in accordance with each agency's unique mission requirements and/or circumstances. We intend this practical guide will assist agencies in developing reliable and effective communication plans for disseminating their EEO program information.