DEFINITION of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency responsible for enforcing federal laws regarding discrimination or harassment against a job applicant or an employee in the United States. The EEOC was formed by Congress to enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The EEOC is vested with the authority to investigate charges of discrimination brought against employers that are covered under the law. The EEOC also seeks to prevent discrimination before it can occur through education and technical assistance programs. The EEOC is headquartered in Washington, DC and has 53 field offices throughout the United States.

BREAKING DOWN Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

It is illegal to discriminate because of a person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. In addition, it is against the law to discriminate against a person who complains about discrimination, who has filed a charge of discrimination or who has participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. Employers are generally covered by EEOC laws if they have at least 15 employees (or 20 employees in the case of age discrimination). Many labor unions and employment agencies fall under the jurisdiction of the EEOC as well.

How the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Applies Its Authority

The laws enforced by the EEOC apply to all types of work situations, processes and functions. This includes the hiring and termination of employees, harassment among the staff or management, job training, promotions, wages and benefits.

The EEOC may specifically investigate employers for violations as well as members of their staff accused of engaging in harassment or discrimination. For example, if a manager refuses to interview or hire qualified job candidates solely because of their ethnicity, then the employer could be held accountable for allowing the behavior to persist. This is can also be applied to employers who permit harassment to continue unchecked. Companies can be held liable for independent contractors who act on behalf of the business.

The EEOC has filed lawsuits against companies where corrective action was not taken after derogatory slurs, threats, assaults, unwanted sexual comments or inappropriate touching occurred in the workplace. Companies can also be penalized for not warning employees about past misconduct committed by another employee or manager they are directed to work with.

There may be attempts to settle cases before the issue is taken to trial. EEOC lawsuits might seek monetary damages, including punitive and compensatory damages, and injunctive relief. The EEOC receives about 80,000 to 90,000 discrimination charges annually, with one-third of those claims including allegations of harassment.