EEO Handbook Statement [20+ Employees]: Federal

Author: Amy E. Mendenhall, Marissa L. Dragoo, Corinn Jackson, and Judith A. Paulson, Littler

When to Include

Employers covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) should include this statement in their handbook. To be covered under these laws, employers must have 15 or more employees (for the Title VII and the ADA) and 20 or more employees (for the ADEA), for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding year.

An "employer" includes employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees.

To determine whether an employer has 15 or 20 or more employees, the employer must count all individuals on the payroll, including part-time employees and employees such as managers and supervisors. Under some circumstances, even foreign employees of a US-controlled corporation may be counted toward the threshold.

Properly classified independent contractors are generally not considered employees.

Whether a shareholder/director is counted toward the required number of employees is generally dependent on the degree of control exercised by the entity over that person, and courts have used various standards and factors that apply to this analysis.

It is possible to aggregate the employees of two or more closely interrelated entities into a single employer in order to satisfy the minimum number of employees.

Courts disagree as to whether the workforces of joint employers may be aggregated to establish the number of employees' requirement. Because the law varies in certain jurisdictions with regard to some of the considerations listed above, it is recommended that if an employer's workforce is close to the 15/20-employee threshold, the employer should consult legal counsel before making a conclusion as to whether it is a covered entity.

Although not covered under Title VII, the ADA or the ADEA, even employers that do not meet the 15/20-employee threshold for those three laws should strongly consider including an equal employment opportunity policy in their handbook to promote a discrimination-free workplace and avoid exposure under other potential areas of liability, such as a claim of discrimination under Section 1981 of the federal Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act.

Customizable Handbook Statement

Equal Employment Opportunity

[Company Name] is an equal opportunity employer. In accordance with applicable law, we prohibit discrimination against any applicant or employee based on any legally-recognized basis, including, but not limited to: veteran status, uniformed servicemember status, race, color, religion, sex, age (40 and over), pregnancy (including childbirth, lactation and related medical conditions), national origin or ancestry, physical or mental disability, genetic information (including testing and characteristics) or any other consideration protected by federal, state or local law. Our commitment to equal opportunity employment applies to all persons involved in our operations and prohibits unlawful discrimination by any employee, including supervisors and co-workers.

Complaint Procedure

Any employee who believes that he or she has been harassed, discriminated against or subject to retaliation by a co-worker, supervisor, agent, client, vendor or customer of [Company Name] in violation of this policy, or who is aware of such harassment, discrimination of or retaliation against others, should immediately provide a written or verbal report to his or her supervisor, any other member of management or to Human Resources [or insert name of appropriate company representative or department].

After a report is received, a thorough and objective investigation by management will be undertaken. The investigation will be completed and a determination made and communicated to the employee as soon as practical. The Company expects that all employees fully cooperate with any investigation conducted by the Company into a complaint of proscribed harassment, discrimination or retaliation, or regarding the alleged violation of any other Company policies.

If we determine that this policy has been violated, remedial action will be taken, commensurate with the severity of the offense. Appropriate action will also be taken to deter any future harassment or discrimination prohibited by this policy. If a complaint of prohibited harassment, discrimination or retaliation is substantiated, appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment, will be taken.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and equivalent state agencies will accept and investigate charges of unlawful discrimination or harassment at no charge to the complaining party.

Protection Against Retaliation

Retaliation is prohibited against any person by another employee or by [Company Name] for using this complaint procedure, reporting proscribed harassment, or for filing, testifying, assisting or participating in any manner in any investigation, proceeding or hearing conducted by a governmental enforcement agency. Prohibited retaliation includes, but is not limited to, termination, demotion, suspension, failure to hire or consider for hire, failure to give equal consideration in making employment decisions, failure to make employment recommendations impartially, adversely affecting working conditions or otherwise denying any employment benefit.

Employees should report any retaliation prohibited by this policy to his or her supervisor, any management team member or Human Resources [or insert name of appropriate company representative or department]. Any report of retaliatory conduct will be investigated in a thorough and objective manner. If a report of retaliation is substantiated, appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment, will be taken.

Guidance for Employers

  • This statement is intended to be used by employers with 20 or more employees. Employers with 15 - 19 employees that wish to provide the same protections as an employer with 20 or more employees may use this statement, but at a minimum, should use the EEO Handbook Statement [15-19 Employees]: Federal.
  • Before taking any employment action (i.e., hiring, firing, promoting, disciplining or demoting an employee or applicant), ensure there is a legitimate business reason for the decision and that all actions are taken without regard to an individual's actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 and over), disability, genetic information, veteran status or any other characteristic protected by federal, state and/or local laws. Individuals who exhibit such characteristics are considered to be in a "protected class."
  • Become familiar with state and local laws that may protect employees of smaller employers and/or afford protections on the basis of additional protected categories.
  • Treat employees fairly and consistently regardless of protected class status and document each employment action taken.
  • Avoid stereotypes, favoritism and preferential treatment.
  • Use respectful terminology in all communications.
  • Understand that harassment is any conduct, behavior or action that threatens and intimidates another individual based on his or her protected class status and creates a hostile work environment. Harassment can take many forms and may be physical, written or verbal.
  • A handbook should include a description of the complaint system that is available for complaints of discrimination and/or harassment. The handbook only needs to describe the complaint system one time, so long as it is clear that the complaint system is available for both kinds of complaints.
  • Implement a multi-channel complaint system and designate representatives to field, address, and follow up on complaints of discrimination and harassment.
  • Ensure that employees are well aware of the potential consequences for engaging in discriminatory behavior, as well as how and where to make a complaint or raise a concern regarding possible discrimination.
  • Create an atmosphere of open communication and trust so that employees can voice their discrimination and harassment concerns without fear of retaliation.
  • Take all complaints of discrimination seriously. Promptly investigate all complaints and follow up with disciplinary measures if needed.
  • Document the steps taken to investigate any discrimination or harassment complaint, as well as any remedial action taken to address discriminatory or harassing conduct. Remind all employees involved of the Company's strict zero-tolerance policy with regard to retaliation.
  • On March 18, 2015, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released guidance (the "Report") wherein the NLRB indicated that workplace rules that infringe on employee rights to argue and debate with one another about unions, management and workplace conditions may be unlawful, even when those debates involve terms or tactics that are intemperate, negative, inappropriate, etc. As a result, prohibitions against negative, inappropriate or generally harassing conduct may be considered unlawful. Employers should consult with legal counsel to ensure that their workplace bullying and other personnel policies do not unlawfully infringe upon employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
  • Be aware that the NLRB also considers it unlawful to require cooperation with company investigations without limitation because the requirement could be interpreted as requiring an employee to cooperate in an unfair labor practice investigation or else risk being disciplined. Employee participation in an interview as part of an unfair labor practice investigation must be completely voluntary.
  • In addition, the NLRB has found certain blanket rules requiring that employees keep investigations confidential to be overbroad and unlawful. To justify a prohibition on employee discussions during ongoing investigations, the NLRB requires employers to demonstrate a specific need for confidentiality, such as the need to protect witnesses, the danger that evidence will be destroyed, the danger that testimony will be fabricated or the need to prevent a cover-up.
  • Consider checking back in with a complaining employee after the resolution of a complaint to determine whether the employee feels the matter has been properly addressed and has not experienced retaliatory or additional discriminatory conduct
  • In addition to federal antidiscrimination laws, employers may be subject to state and local laws prohibiting discrimination. Some of these laws may include categories not protected under federal law and/or may extend to smaller employers than those covered under federal law. Employers should ensure that they are aware of and compliant with the state and/or local law in jurisdictions where they have operations and adjust EEO policies as appropriate.
  • A critical component of achieving and supporting diversity in the workplace is ensuring that antidiscrimination policies are communicated effectively and enforced uniformly.
  • Train all employees and supervisors on the employer's policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation and ensure compliance with the employer's equal employment opportunity (EEO) policy.
  • Download the "EEO is the Law" poster available in English, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.

Additional Resources

EEO Handbook Statement [15-19 Employees]: Federal

EEO Protected Classes by State and Municipality

Discrimination - Supervisor Briefing

Retaliation - Supervisor Briefing

Diversity and Inclusion - Supervisor Briefing