Business & The Law: EEOC Laws and Guidance

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws (20 employees in age discrimination cases). Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered.

The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages and benefits.

Authority and Role

The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law. Its role in an investigation is to fairly and accurately assess the allegations in the charge and then make a finding. If EEOC finds that discrimination has occurred, the authority tries to settle the charge. If not successful, it has the authority to file a lawsuit to protect the rights of individuals and the interests of the public. The authority does not, however, file lawsuits in all cases where it finds discrimination.

EEOC also works to prevent discrimination before it occurs through outreach, education and technical assistance programs.

The EEOC provides leadership and guidance to federal agencies on all aspects of the federal government’s equal employment opportunity program. EEOC assures federal agency and department compliance with EEOC regulations, provides technical assistance to federal agencies concerning EEO complaint adjudication, monitors and evaluates federal agencies’ affirmative employment programs, develops and distributes federal sector educational materials and conducts training for stakeholders, provides guidance and assistance to its administrative judges who conduct hearings on EEO complaints and adjudicates appeals from administrative decisions made by federal agencies on EEO complaints.

EEOC carries out its work through headquarter offices in Washington, D.C. and through 53 field offices serving every part of the nation.

Regulations implement federal workplace discrimination laws. They are voted on by the Commission after the public has a formal opportunity to provide comments to EEOC.

EEOC Subregulatory Guidance expresses official agency policy and explains how the laws and regulations apply to specific workplace situations. EEOC seeks and obtains input from the public in a variety of ways for these documents before they are voted on by the Commission.

Commission Decisions concern a specific charge of discrimination where the Commission votes to express official agency policy to be applied in similar cases by EEOC. They should not be confused with EEOC’s federal sector appellate decisions in federal employee complaints of discrimination.

Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) explain how two or more agencies will cooperate and interact when their enforcement responsibilities overlap. MOUs involving other federal agencies must be approved by a majority of the Commissioners. EEOC also enters into MOUs with foreign embassies and consulates to enhance cooperation on matters involving employment discrimination.

EEOC Resource Documents assist the public in understanding existing EEOC positions. Since they do not create new policy, they are not voted on by the Commission.

Workplace laws enforced by other agencies: Federal laws prohibiting discrimination or regulating workplace issues that are not enforced by the EEOC:

• The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA).Enforced by both the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

• The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). Enforced by Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

• Executive Order 11246. Enforced by The Department of Labor’s Employment Standards Administration’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

• Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Enforced by the Office for Civil Rights.

• Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA ). Enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.

• Title III of the ADA. Enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.

• The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Enforced by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the Department of Labor.

• The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA). Enforced by The Office Of Federal Agency Programs (FAP) within the Directorate of Enforcement Programs.

• Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. Enforced by the U.S. Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

• Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Enforced by OCR, a component of the U.S. Department of Education.

• Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 was originally added to the Rehabilitation Act in 1986; the 1998 amendments significantly expand and strengthen the technology access requirements in Section 508.

• The Social Security Act. Enforced by the Department of Health and Human Services.

• The Fair Labor Standards Act. The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) administers and enforces the FLSA.

• National Labor Relations Act. Enforced by the National Labor Relations Board.

• Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Enforced by Enforced by the U.S Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center.

• Workers Compensation Law. Enforced by Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, U.S. Department of Labor.

• Title I of Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Enforced by the U.S Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center. Discrimination by Type

The authority provides links to the relevant laws, regulations and policy guidance as well as fact sheets, Q&As, best practices and other information regarding age; disability; equal pay/compensation; genetic information; harassment; national origin; pregnancy; race/color; religion; retaliation; sex and sexual harassment at

Employers rights and responsibilities

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. These laws protect employees and job applicants against employment discrimination when it involves:

Unfair treatment because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

Harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in the workplace, because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

Denial of a reasonable workplace accommodation that the employee needs because of religious beliefs or disability.

Retaliation because the employee complained about job discrimination, or assisted with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Not all employers are covered by the laws EEOC enforces and not all employees are protected. This can vary depending on the type of employer, the number of employees it has, and the type of discrimination alleged.

An employee or job applicant who believes that he or she has been discriminated against at work can file a “charge of discrimination.” All of the laws enforced by EEOC, except for the Equal Pay Act, require employees and applicants to file a charge of discrimination with EEOC before they can file a job discrimination lawsuit against their employer. Also, there are strict time limits for filing a charge.

The fact that the EEOC has taken a charge does not mean that the government is accusing anyone of discrimination. The charging party has alleged that an employer has discriminated against him or her and it is the EEOC’s job to investigate the matter to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred.

Other Requirements

The laws enforced by EEOC require employers to keep certain records, regardless of whether a charge has been filed against them. When a charge has been filed, employers have additional recordkeeping obligations. The EEOC also collects workforce data from some employers, regardless of whether a charge has been filed against the company.

Employers are required to post notices describing the federal laws prohibiting job discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.


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