Small Business Human Resources

Equal Opportunity - A Primer

Equal opportunity requirements for small businesses have perplexed many a small business owner. We take a look at small business equal opportunity requirements and do our best to explain them in simple, easy to understand language.

Are you an equal opportunity employer?

Small Businesses Equal Opportunity

As an entrepreneur, it's easy to get so busy with building your business that you forget to comply with the many employment laws that apply to your business.

Don't let that happen to you. Take the time to educate yourself on employment laws and get good counsel. Putting the right policies in place can help you avoid costly employment-related disputes.

What exactly are your equal opportunity obligations?

Your company's obligations will vary based on: your number of employees; whether you do business with federal, state or local government entities or with companies that have government contracts or subcontracts; and what federal, state and local laws apply to your business. State and municipal entities often enforce their own equal opportunity statutes. Thus, your obligations depend on the size and location of your business and on what your customers may require.

The most important thing you need to know is that employment discrimination is illegal and generally results when a person is treated differently (usually less favorably) because of his or her race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. In addition, employment discrimination can result when a neutral policy or practice has an adverse impact on the members of any race, sex, or ethnic group and the policy or practice is not job related or required by business necessity.

Adopting positive equal opportunity policies ensures that you are in compliance with the law. It's also good business. It can result in greater work force diversity and a wider clientele for your business. It can improve your recruiting, interviewing and screening techniques. Finally, it helps to ensure a more qualified, informed and stable work force.

You may never understand all the laws that you must comply with, but you should know that making an effort helps your cause. If a complaint is filed, a record of promoting equal opportunity often provides the best defense. Good faith efforts to implement equal opportunities policies can show your intent to comply and can distance the company from any errors its employees make.

Here are a few things that smart businesses do:

  • First and absolutely, all employees, applicants for employment and customers should know that your business does not discriminate in employment or in providing goods and services. A good EO Policy Statement makes it clear to everyone that you intend to comply with nondiscrimination requirements in every aspect of your business.
  • It's essential to perform work force analysis on an ongoing basis. Periodically review the representation of protected individuals in your work force and their distribution in department and salary categories. Compare your representation data with the availability of potentially qualified applicants in your recruitment area, which may vary by job classification.
  • Assess your recruitment procedures and sources. There's a litany of resources available that recommend good recruiting and selection processes. You need to make sure you are doing things right. For example, state laws often prohibit an employer from asking applicants for certain information such as race, sex, and age. Every interviewer in your organization needs to understand the rules.

The bottomline? Smart entrepreneurs understand the rules and take the right steps to be in compliance. Evidence of equal opportunity principles "at work" helps protect any business from serious or frivolous discrimination charges. The proverbial "ounce of prevention" can help avoid time-consuming and expensive problems later.

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