What is the EEOC?

What is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission? We explain what it is and what it's for.The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is a federal administrative agency that handles employment discrimination and harassment charges. The EEOC enforces several federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a protected trait  or characteristic. For example, the EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of an individual’s race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. EEOC laws cover both employees and job applicants. However, an employer must employ at least 15 individuals in order to be subjected to laws covered by the EEOC. Many state laws lower this number to allow employees to still bring discrimination claims against employers with less than 15 employees.

EEOC Field Offices

While the EEOC is headquartered in Washington D.C., the agency has 53 other field offices across the country. The EEOC enables an aggrieved party to file a charge in person or by mail. However, a party must have certain personal information on hand whether he or she files in person or by mail. Upon receipt of these documents, the EEOC will review the information and contact the individual. The EEOC has an online assessment database that helps individuals determine whether filing a charge with the EEOC is the best course of action. This questionnaire asks for the individual’s personal information and brief description of the alleged discrimination. In addition, it outlines several actions an individual should take before filing a charge with the EEOC. For example, if an employer has an anti-discrimination policy, the EEOC recommends the employee first file an internal claim.

The EEOC’s Authority to Investigate Claims

The EEOC has the authority to investigate claims of discrimination against employers with at least 15 employees. Employees or applicants who wish to file a discrimination claim with the EEOC have a limited period to do so, however. The EEOC will only investigate claims that have been filed within 180 days from the discriminatory act. Once a charge is filed, the EEOC will send a notice of the charge to the individual’s employer within 10 days from the date of filing. From there, the EEOC conducts an investigation into the charge. This may include interviews at the employer’s office with supervisors, managers or co-workers involved in the claim. Although the EEOC may choose to file a lawsuit, this is not always the case. Depending on the circumstances, the EEOC may try to settle a claim through mediation between the aggrieved employee or applicant, and the employer. In the event the EEOC cannot help reach a voluntary settlement, the case will be referred to the legal staff at the EEOC. The legal staff will then determine whether the EEOC itself should file a lawsuit, or opt not to. If the legal staff advises against a lawsuit, the EEOC will send the aggrieved party a “Notice of the Right to Sue.” At that point, the aggrieved party can sue his or her employer individually in a court of law.

EEOC Outreach and Education Services

In addition to investigating claims of discrimination, the EEOC also provides outreach and education assistance programs to federal agencies. Although limited, representatives are available to hold presentations on preventing employment discrimination for no cost. These programs are referred to as the “No-Cost Outreach and Education Programs.” Further, the EEOC provides a fee-based training program. Representatives can deliver either a standardized course or customized program, depending on the employer. Common training topics include: harassment, disability, and an overview of equal employment opportunity laws.