Cracking the Code on Anti-Discrimination Policies for Your Small Business

EEOC Best Practices For Small Businesses

What does your business need to know about dealing with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)?

The commission is the federal body policing the country’s anti-discrimination laws. They investigate charges of discrimination against small businesses. They are an entity with arms in every state.

Long story short it’s a good idea to have good policies in place thus avoiding conflicts with the federal agency. Small Business Trends spoke with Labor and Employment Attorney Todd Wulffson at Carothers DiSante and Freudenberger. He has 25 years of experience in labor and employment law. Wulffson provided some best practices for small businesses to avoid clashes with the commission.

What You Must Know about Discrimination Law and Your  Small Business

The laws the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces make it illegal to discriminate in the workplace against an employee or job applicant based on sex, religion, color, race, age, genetic information or disability. Employers cannot discriminate against a person who has complained about discrimination or filed a charge. It’s also illegal to discriminate on the basis of participating in an employment discrimination lawsuit or investigation. “All of that creates a body of law that you need to comply with if you have 15 or more employees,” Wulffson says.

What You Must Understand About Your Business’s Responsibilities

The bottom line is if you’re a small business with 15 or more employees you can be sued based on failure to hire due to discrimination. Firing someone outside the guidelines suggested by the law can also land  you in legal hot water too. In fact, taking any kind of negative action against employees before reviewing the law in this matter can be trouble.

What You Should Know About the EEOC’s Role

This government agency has the power to do one of two things according to Wulffson. “ At the end of their investigatory process, they can issue what’s called a right to sue letter,” he says. That letter gives an individual the right to file a private lawsuit against your company for violation of the law.

What You Must Know About Worst-Case Scenario

In a worst-case scenario, the EEOC can actually file a lawsuit on someone’s behalf. In the end, this agency is the stopgap that dictates whether you’ll be sued for discrimination. It stands to reason small business will want to know how to prevent that from happening.

What You Must Know to Protect Your Small Business

There’s no need for small business to be afraid of the long arm of the EEOC. Being prepared by educating management and supervisors is a great first step. “The owners and the managers need to understand what the rules are,” Wulffson says. The EEOC website has a great resource page to start bringing management up to speed on what they need to know. Click here.

EEOC Best Practices

Have Policies and Procedures in Place

Small businesses also need to have policies and procedures in place they can show the EEOC if need be. Being thorough here pays off because there are some areas you’ll need to cover that might be surprising. Wulffson explains.

Include Anti-Retaliatory Policies

“You need to make sure you’re applying the policies in an anti-retaliatory way as well,” Wulffson says. That means your policies need to be clear retaliation will not be tolerated against people who have laid unsuccessful discrimination claims. Small businesses need solid recruitment and hiring procedures promoting anti-discrimination principles. Performance appraisals should be carefully checked over for discriminatory trends. Transparency is one of the keys to steering clear of any issues. For example, promotion criteria needs to be well known and open jobs need to be posted in accessible areas.

Add Anti-harassment Policies

All small businesses need a solid anti-harassment policy. The policy needs to explain in clear language what is prohibited conduct and supply examples. The complaint process needs to be clearly laid out. All anti-harassment policies for small business need to assure employees management will take prompt and thorough action.

Now Hiring Photo via Shutterstock


Rob Starr Rob Starr is a staff writer for Small Business Trends. Rob is a freelance journalist and content strategist/manager with three decades of experience in both print and online writing. He currently works in New York City as a copywriter and all across North America for a variety of editing and writing enterprises.

4 Reactions
  1. Right. It is better to create policies that are supported by the law so that you have something that can back up your rules.

  2. You need to have some mitigations in case something goes wrong. That is part of basic risk assessment.

  3. You should look out for discrimination. It is for your employees and customers. You don’t want to become a business that encourages it in your organization.

  4. Yes and discrimination should be avoided in all cases. Having laws against this is a better way to handle the situation.