The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency established by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964. The EEOC’s purpose is to clarify and enforce federal discrimination laws that prohibit employers from discriminating against individuals based on their age, race, gender, national origin, disability, and religion.
It is illegal for an employer to consider any of these characteristics when making an employment decision or to base the decision on such factors. The EEOC’s job is to ensure that employers are not in violation of these laws, and one of the ways they do this is through Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) surveys.
Questions categorized as EEO are typically found at the end of job applications or may be administered via a survey at work. Companies are required to ask EEO questions about job applicants and then file an EEO-1 report with the EEOC.
In this article, our experienced California employment attorney explains the basis of EEO questions, what they hope to achieve, and how they affect your employment.
What are EEO questions?
Just as the name implies, EEO questions are designed to ensure that job applicants and employees have equal opportunity to secure jobs and succeed at work. These questions were designed by the EEOC to track compliance with anti-discrimination laws and ensure companies are not violating employee rights.
EEO questions are usually raised as part of a voluntary workplace survey, or they may be found at the end of a job application. In this survey, the job applicant is asked questions that a company, by law, cannot ask during the hiring process. More on this below.
Here are some questions you may see on the EEO survey that you should not see during the hiring process.
- What is your race?
- What is your gender?
- Are you a US citizen?
- Do you have a disability?
Why are these questions not allowed in a typical job interview? These questions are considered illegal in a job interview because they provide a basis for discrimination. One of the terrible things about discrimination is it can often stem from unconscious biases. HR personnel and those in charge of hiring job applicants are only human, and a lot of the time, these biases can creep in unconsciously. Many employers intentionally use HR applications that remove information that can lead to these biases in an effort to ensure their hiring process is EEO-compliant.
As a result, the EEOC prohibits these questions in an interview. Instead, employers are required to ensure the questions they ask during interviews are strictly job-related questions. Even if the illegal question is meant to elicit job-related information, employers are required to phrase this question in non-discriminatory ways.
If these questions are illegal, why can they be asked in an EEO survey? The purpose of making employers ask these questions is so the EEOC can study their hiring practices. The outcome of the questions lets them know if employers provide equal opportunity in their hiring process. It also lets them study the company’s workforce to ensure they are not unfairly overlooking people from a protected group.
What happens to EEO data and information?
When employers ask EEO questions, they are required to file an EEO-1 report that outlines the outcome of the questions. The EEO-1 report is a compliance investigation tool mandated by the federal constitution and regulations.
The report, which is usually filed once a year, is used as a tool to analyze civil rights enforcement and employment patterns. For example, an EEO-1 report will be used to see if women and minorities are adequately represented in the workforce in businesses, industries, or regions.
Within the report, employers must classify the company’s employment data by race/ethnicity, national origin, sex, and job category. The report must include all employees, regardless of their status (full-time or part-time) or job classification.
If there are any employees that are uncomfortable with providing the data required by the report, employers may use other methods to compile the report. One of these methods allowed is to use records available to the employer or visual observation, such as in the case of race.
After receiving this employment data, the EEOC can better concentrate their enforcement efforts and isolate those companies that are breaking the law.
Are all employers required to ask EEO questions?
The duty to complete and send EEO-1 reports is not placed on all employers. The only companies required to file these reports are those that:
- Have 100 or more employees;
- Have less than 100 employees but are controlled, owned by or affiliated with a company that has more than 100 employees overall;
- Have 50 or more employees and are federal contractors or subcontractors with a contract worth more than $50,000; or
- Have 50 or more employees and serve as a depository of government funds or act as an issuing and paying agent for US Savings Bonds.
If your employer does not fall within these companies, it doesn’t mean they do not have to comply with anti-discrimination laws. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act applies to all employers with 15 or more workers and requires them to implement anti-discrimination policies. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act also applies to all employers with 5 or more employees.
As a result, even if your employer is not legally required to ask EEO questions or file a report, they must still respect your rights against discrimination. This includes not refusing to hire you, paying you fairly, or promoting you because of discriminatory reasons.
Do EEO questions affect your employment?
Considering that answering EEO questions seems to give your employer information that can potentially fuel bias, it is natural to distrust them. However, the chances of this happening are very slim, since EEO data actually augments the enforcement efforts of the EEOC.
If your employer chooses to base discriminatory decisions on the information you provide in an EEO survey, they only make it easy for the EEOC to catch them. The EEOC carefully considers the information in an EEO-1 report and conducts investigations where something seems off.
In addition, if you suspect your employer may be using your EEO answers in a discriminatory manner, you can file a complaint. The EEOC will either investigate your complaint and fine your employer, or you will be allowed to file a lawsuit against your boss.
Do you have to answer EEO questions?
No, job seekers are not required to answer EEO questions regarding job applications and may refuse to respond if they do not want to take the survey. The process is entirely voluntary and will have absolutely no reflection on your employment, should you refuse.
Besides, the data in the questions is synchronized only if the person accepts a position with the company. So, if you do not intend to proceed with the job application, for other reasons, there may be no need for you to complete the EEO survey. If job seekers refuse to identify themselves, a job record or observer ID may be used to provide the data.
However, while you are free to refuse, you should keep in mind that filling EEO surveys helps the EEOC make workplaces fair and inclusive. If not everyone responds, it becomes more difficult for the EEOC to prove that there is discrimination in the workplace or at a particular company.
In addition, if you apply for a job online with the fear that your sex, race, ethnicity, or disability will prevent you from getting selected or hired, choosing not to identify yourself will be a missed opportunity to inform the EEOC that you have received a job offer.
It makes it harder for the EEOC to tell if there are any improvements in their equal work opportunity efforts and how much work remains to be done. That said, the person completing the job applications should determine if it is in their best interest to answer an EEO survey.
Importance of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The EEOC works very hard to ensure that US workplaces are free of discrimination, pay inequalities, retaliation, and harassment. Through the medium of tools such as the EEO-1 form, they keep an eye on employment practices in companies and ensure that companies are not misbehaving.
They also ensure that companies do not ask questions about your race, gender, marital status, age, and disability. Bearing all this in mind, the EEOC is vital for making sure companies are NOT asking you questions about your race, gender, marital status, age, and disability.
As such, applicants should not be afraid to disclose their true identities, as the entire process is designed to protect you from discrimination. If you suspect that your employer or prospective employer is using your answers to the EEO survey improperly, do not hesitate to contact an attorney.
An experienced California employment attorney will listen to your story and help you determine how your rights are being violated. They will also provide all the support and legal guidance you need to file a complaint with the EEOC or commence enforcement action in a lawsuit.
If you need additional details and EEO information, please do not hesitate to contact Eldessouky Law.