EEOC Shows Renewed Interest in Workplace Discrimination

Diversity Casual People Communication Technology ConceptLast month, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a number of other federal agencies released a report after participating in the Combating Religious Discrimination Today initiative.

The report includes recommendations for employers such as outreach programs to educate and raise awareness of diversity issues within the workplace and existing non-discrimination and civil rights laws. The agencies recommend more transparency regarding employee rights and the process of filing charges with the EEOC in the case of workplace harassment or discrimination.

Following the report, the EEOC also designed and released a new document that will assist employees in better understanding their rights as well as existing regulations under laws that prohibit religious discrimination in the workplace. They also announced their plans to improve data collection regarding religious discrimination. The EEOC intends to alter the way they collect demographic data about individuals who file discrimination charges.

The EEOC’s renewed interest in workplace discrimination is vital, as the phenomenon is far more common than people realize. For years, prejudice, intolerance, and inequity have been swept under the rug. According to a 2013 National Business Ethics Survey, as many as 12% of American workers had witnessed some form of discrimination in their place of business.

Though the report focuses primarily on the injustices affecting workers who are — or are perceived to be — Muslim or Middle Eastern, the issue is one that affects all minority groups.

A recent ruling by the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, for instance, has highlighted a gap in civil rights protection in the workplace. While employees are protected by law from discrimination based on race, sex, and national origin, they are not protected in regards to sexual orientation.

Affirming a district court’s dismissal of a lesbian college instructor’s lawsuit against Ivy Tech Community College, the Seventh Circuit panel stated that it was bound by precedent to reject recognition of sexual orientation bias claims.

Following the ruling, the EEOC and gay rights groups expressed disappointment with the court’s conclusion and renewed their calls for Congress to pass the Equality Act.

The reality is that improving diversity within the workplace has benefits beyond simply being the moral thing to do. Research shows that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their competition and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to do the same.

Employers would be wise to review the EEOC’s guidelines regarding workplace discrimination but beyond that, Congress needs to take action to rectify existing gaps in discrimination law.

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